Alankrita Shrivastava’s second film is finally in theaters. After having picked up a number of accolades on the festival circuit, Lipstick hit an all-too-predictable snag in January this year, when the honourable CBFC refused to certify the film. The stated reason was a marvel of eloquence and lucidity: “The story is lady oriented, their fantasy above life. There are contagious sexual scenes, abusive words, audio pornography and a bit sensitive touch about one particular section of society”

Since the Film Certificate Appellate Tribunal (FCAT) eventually overruled the censor board’s ruling and passed the film with minimal cuts, we can examine the validity of the CBFC’s opinion. Here we go:

The story is lady oriented

First of all, let me just get off my chest that there should be a hyphen between ‘lady’ and ‘oriented’. Grammar Nazi 1, Culture Nazi 0.

I promised myself I’d never use “The Oxford dictionary defines…” in a piece of writing, but here I am. The Oxford dictionary defines ‘lady’ as ‘a woman of good social position’. None of the four female protagonists of the film fit this description, because in the Bhopal of Lipstick, there are no women of good social position. They are either suppressed, repressed or both, to varying degrees. There is the teenage Rihanna, a Miley Cyrus fan who would love to be like the singer, but can’t – her conservative Muslim parents would consider it an ignominy if she so much as wore a pair of jeans. There is Leela, who would be quite happy spending her twenties indulging her sizeable carnal appetite, but can’t – her mother is dead set on getting her married. There is Shireen, a quiet housewife who wants to be open about her secret career as a saleswoman, but can’t – her husband is a cad whose only interest in her relates to rare, rough and unprotected sex. Finally, there is Usha, a middle-aged widow who seems on the surface to be greatly respected, but we quickly discover that it is a shallow respect – dependent on her playing by society’s rules for women of her age.

So no, not lady oriented.

Their fantasy above life

The CBFC sort of got this one right. Fantasy is a strong theme in Lipstick. Rihanna longs to become a popstar, in addition from the usual teenage fancies that occupy most girls her age. Leela fantasizes about skipping town and starting a honeymoon photography business with her lover, never mind that the idea is as hilariously terrible as it sounds. Shireen dreams of a utopian future where her husband understands the avant-garde concepts of condoms and female employment. Usha has a secret fixation for soft porn novels, and views her infatuation with a young man through the lens of these stories. Yet, the shackles of society are such that most of these hopes seem distant and unlikely. So is this the real life, or this just fantasy? You can’t blame these characters for occupying themselves with the latter: they’re caught in a landslide, no escape from reality.

There are contagious sexual scenes

There are sexual scenes, but I don’t know yet whether they are contagious or not. I’ve scheduled the HIV test for this afternoon, so I’ll keep you posted.

Abusive words

This one is 100% correct. In the three seconds that the CBFC certificate remains on screen before the opening credits, the words “Pahlaj Nihalani” are clearly visible on the bottom right.

Audio pornography

Why shouldn’t blind people have a little fun?

A bit sensitive touch about one particular section of society

I suppose ‘particular section of society’ is one way to refer to women. People are definitely sensitive and touchy about the subject, so full marks on this one too.

I cringed when Lipstick Under My Burkha opened with a shot of a burkha-clad woman in a cosmetics shop. Far too literal and unsubtle, I thought, and braced myself for two hours of the same. My fears turned out to be unfounded. That opening sequence aside, the film is assured in its storytelling and characterization. It is lively in its narration – from the way it uses voiceover to the manner in which it connects the strands of the four characters. The movie comes together as a compelling take on the secret life of the Indian everywoman.

It’s always a shame when there is some sort of sociopolitical furore over a movie, but there is often a great sense of anticlimax when the movie in question turns out to be mediocre or just plain bad. Good controversies don’t always get good films. Thankfully, that isn’t the case here.

Rating: 4/5 stars