Lipstick Under My Burkha: Is India Ready for Feminist Films?
Lipstick under my Burkha, the most controversial film of 2017 revolves around the individual lives of four ordinary women belonging to different social situations. Each of them are forced to hide and repress their desires and sexuality. The film has a realistic and never-seen-before take on female sexuality and how it is controlled and restricted. The film has performed quite well in the box office and has succeeded in becoming very popular among the Indian audience. One must be delighted and surprised to see such feminist films appealing to the Indian audience.
But a movie experience of Lipstick proves quite the contrary. Women audiences have narrated horrific tales of gangs of men clapping, yelling and laughing at scenes of marital rape. The audiences have reportedly jeered at an older woman shown to have sexual desires. At the end of the film when these women are punished for pursuing their sexual desires, our beloved audience nods in agreement as they have met their “rightful punishment”.
Why Such Reactions?
Such reactions tell us there is no reason to be as delighted about the success of the film as the entire message of the film is completely lost on the audience. Why is the audience so insensitive towards the struggles of these women? Let’s break it down. The Indian audience is not used to see women as separate entities in mainstream Bollywood movies. Bollywood lacks women-centric films and realistic female characters. Women are almost invariably depicted as sidekicks of heroes- their mothers, sisters, romantic interests or objects of their sexual desire. There is either the weeping melancholy caregiver, the extremely desirable heroine with a ‘perfect’ body or (a relatively recent trend!) the strong powerful woman whom none can stop .Therefore the audience has little knowledge of seeing the world from a real woman’s perspective. Thus our audience finds it hard to imagine women as separate entities with various feelings of their own. They find it difficult to relate to a woman’s experience of the world and comprehend a story solely based on what a woman truly goes through.
Why the Message of the Film Fails to Reach the Majority of Indian Audience
Careful observation would show us that only few of the urban educated class of the society could grasp the message of the film. This is because they are already exposed to ideas of feminism and have knowledge of women’s oppression. They have access to such education which introduces them to matters like equality and women’s rights, primarily because of their economic status. However, rest of the Indian population has little or no access to such education due to various reasons. It is only natural they become what the society teaches them to be, that is, what they inherit from their immediate family and immediate social interaction. Their perception of what is right or wrong and what a woman should behave like is shaped by regressive social norms, making it impossible for them to make sense of what the movie is trying to convey.
How to Make Them Aware
Our solution therefore is to make these people aware of such ideas using various methods. First, everyone must be introduced to such ideas of equality between men and women at a young age in the school curriculum itself. It is easier to shape young minds and explain to them the importance of these matters. Debates on feminism held among the educated elite cannot be confined to their public sphere and must be open to everyone’s participation. Usage of jargons and difficult concepts in such debates must be reduced to make it lucid for the rest. Women should be portrayed more realistically in the media. Their experiences should be more and more included in the mainstream media for the people to see and understand. Last and most important, casual sexism has to be eradicated. Women must not be treated differently in family, school and community and comments or jokes demeaning women must not be normalized.[Image Attribute: geralt]