Striving for certification: Alankrita and Prakash Jha on Lipstick under my Burkha
It is not only about the Board refusing certification for this film, but we are saying that we are legitimizing the silencing of women's voices
Alankrita Shrivastava’s Lipstick under my Burkha has been traveling around the globe and winning several awards and titles. The film, which has been produced by Praksh Jha was recently also awarded the Grand Jury Prize for Best Feature Film at the Festival of International de Films de Femmes in France, the oldest women’s film festival in the world.
Unfortunately, the movie has been facing issues with the Censor Board in its own home country. The film that traces the journey of four ordinary women, their dreams and aspirations, is fighting for a release date as the CBFC has refused to certify it.
Which raises a very important question – does cinema, the mirror to our society, have any freedom at all?
We caught up with Director and Producer of the film who had much to share about the current scenario surrounding the film. They shared their thoughts on the CBFC, their next step towards getting certification and the importance of making film from a woman’s point of view.
Given the subject of the film, did you anticipate that it might face issues with the CBFC?
Not at all, no one makes a film thinking that it is going to be banded. Plus, so many films did get certification in the past. Movies like Margarita with a Straw and BA Pass were released. Recently, Parched and Pink also came out, so I didn’t think there would be a problem with Lipstick under my Burkha.
The board defined the movie has been ‘Lady Oriented’, what do you think is the real issue?
I think it is wrong of the CBFC to say that they don’t want to certify the film because this speaks of a very regressive and ridiculous mindset. But at the same time, it is scary because by making this decision the board is actually saying that women should not tell their stories from their point of view. They should not express their feelings, thoughts or opinions. In a country where there is so much discrimination against women, it is very important that women participate in the popular culture to actually tell their stories through their point of view. But here we have a legitimate government body, which is legally stating that women shouldn’t say anything.
Also, they are branding the film by saying it has sexual scenes and pornographic content. But there is enough sexual content in mainstream films, however, the difference is that all that sexual content is there to serve the purpose of male fulfillment. That is something that we have accepted.
We are not saying, ‘don’t have that’, but there should be a level playing field. The problem here for them is that, for once, women are talking about those things from their point of view. The film is about women genuinely trying to find freedom in spaces that are claustrophobic. It is not only about the Board refusing certification for this film, but we are saying that we are legitimizing the silencing of women’s voices and legitimizing on clamping down on freedom of expression, which is not in keeping with the Constitution of India that grantees freedom of expression and gender equality.
‘Lipstick under my Burkha’ metaphorically means that no matter how much you constrain or suffocate a woman, they will never stop dreaming or fighting for their freedom
Can you tell us a bit about your encounter with CBFC and what further steps are you planning to take?
I had two encounters with the Censor Board; the first time was when I was screening the movie for the Examining Committee. At the end of the screening, when I went in, I was told that it (the committee) is a divided house and they couldn’t take the decision. They said that they would get back in writing regarding the verdict. They also told me that they felt that the film was a very realistic portrayal of truth about Indian women.
I got the verdict through the letter which said ‘this is a lady-oriented film’ and they are refusing the certification. To this we replied and asked for a Revising Committee. That was when I met Pahlaj Nihalani and the rest of the board and at the end of the screening he told me that they have made a unanimous decision that they won’t be certifying the film. They said that it had nothing to do with one scene or any sequence, it was the whole film and that there was nothing to discuss. Also, the way they conduct these interactions is very lopsided in terms of the dynamics. They are sitting and you go in like a criminal and standing there like it is a trial. There is no such thing where you sit across the table and decide.
So now, we have decided to approach the Film Certification Appellate Tribunal, and the verdict on the film is still to come out.
The film has traveled to some prominent film festivals and won several awards, do you think these factors may push the verdict in your favor?
Now the decision is beyond the CBFC itself and the FCAT has to decide and that is very different. I am quite hopeful that FCAT can see the film for what it is. The whole thing is really ironic because we received the Oxfam Award for the Best Film in Gender Equality (MAMI 2016). Moreover, recently we also received this very prestigious award at the Festival of International de Films de Femmes in France. It is the oldest and the most prestigious women’s film festival in the world and we got the Grand Jury Prize for Best Feature Film. The award is given by the French Minister of women’s affairs. That is the whole dichotomy where the feminism aspect of the film that is bothering the board, is being recognized and appreciated all over the world.
Does the title of the movie have significance to it?
When I first thought of the film, the title and the four characters emerged at the same time. ‘Lipstick under my Burkha’ for me signifies veiled dreams and hidden desires, it metaphorically means that no matter how much you constrain or suffocate a woman, they will never stop dreaming or fighting for their freedom. They will never stop wanting to live, so that pulsating desire for whatever it is that they want in life cannot be throttled.
Several of your movies have faced issues with the CBFC, what are your views on the way the Board conducts?
For the past ten years, I have been saying that this censorship needs to be stopped. There should only be certification because when you give someone the power to decide what the society should watch or wear, that is unfair. It is the Central Board of Certification but they have the power to censor.
There should be a society where we are not merely talking about equality but actually abiding to it
What do you think is the core issue that the board has with Lipstick under my Burkha?
This is a male-dominated society and so they look at woman only from their point of view, no matter how independent the woman are today. This is a small film about four women where they are talking about their dreams, life and satisfaction. There is no vulgarity in the movie; the only thing is that these women are talking about their sexuality, through their point of view, and that is something a male-dominated society cannot handle.
How important is it in today’s time to make a film from a woman’s point of view?
More and more films should be made from a woman’s point of view. The whole idea of the film is that we should start talking about it. I think it is very important because once we start talking about this aspect of a man and woman’s relationship, things will ease down. The atmosphere that we bring our girl child into is not ideal, we teach them to be scared of the men. It is necessary to change that and make a society where no one needs to be scared. There should be a society where we are not merely talking about equality but actually abiding to it.