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Review: Women assert themselves with verve in Indian drama ‘Lipstick Under My Burkha’

A scene from the film “Lipstick Under My Burkha.” Credit: Jignesh Panchal / Prakash Jha Productions
Konkona Sen Sharma in the film “Lipstick Under My Burkha.”
(Jignesh Panchal / Prakash Jha Productions)

The rousing Indian drama “Lipstick Under My Burkha,” co-written and directed by Alankrita Shrivastava, takes on the repressive traditions around gender and sexuality in that country with refreshing candor and humor.

Leela (Aahana Kumra), Usha (Ratna Pathak Shah), Shirin (Konkona Sen Sharma) and Rehana (Plabita Borthakur) are very different women, loosely connected to each other in the city of Bhopal. Each seeks to escape the oppressive patriarchy that defines their lives and yearns for a more modern and autonomous lifestyle.

Student Rehana and saleswoman Shirin are burkha-wearing Muslims, though the fashion- and music-obsessed Rehana rebels, stepping out in modern clothing. Shirin has to hide her success at work from her abusive, unemployed and philandering husband, who wants to keep her pregnant and at home. The Hindu women might not wear burkhas, but they are similarly controlled: aspiring businesswoman Leela is pressured into an arranged marriage, and widow Usha is shamed for exploring her sexuality.

“Lipstick Under My Burkha” was initially banned in India for its honest depiction of feminine sexual fantasy. It’s through fantasy, creative self-expression and career ambition that these women define who they are as individuals, outside of strict gendered norms. That independence will always be the biggest threat to patriarchy.

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‘Lipstick Under My Burkha’

In Hindi with English subtitles

Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 57 minutes

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Playing: Cinemark 18 and XD, West L.A.; AMC Orange 30

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