Lipstick under my burkha is that lady-oriented film I've been waiting for. You know, one where it's possible for a woman to have fun without getting raped, and the entire film is driving towards this momentous event which is considered near inevitable.
It's not that the women in the film don't face repercussions for their little rebellions and big dreams - they do. The landscape that the film traverses is real, and so, its women must suffer the reprimands and judgment that society throws at them. But here's the beautiful thing about it, they aren't broken by the barbs. They don't fold their wings like crushed butterflies, awaiting a male saviour to fix their problems.
Indeed, they realise that these problems cannot be fixed. They must be escaped.
Set in Bhopal, in an ostensibly middle-class neighbourhood, there's nothing in the content of Lipstick under my burkha that is shocking. The shock, if you experience it at all, purely comes from years of never seeing women as they are, in flesh and blood, represented on screen. The lust, the rage, the smart comebacks, the secrets… and oh, the humour.
There's Rihana (Plabitha Borthakur), a college-girl who indulges in shoplifting expensive clothes and shoes to fit in with the hip crowd. The burkha, which she wears to subscribe to her family's diktat, comes in handy when she desires anonymity or needs to shove a lipstick within it.
For mother of three and super salesgirl Shireen (Konkana Sen Sharma), who is married to a man who can't be bothered to use contraception, the burkha is part of her identity, but it also becomes a tool she puts to good use when she plays detective.
It's perhaps the ambitious and narcissistic Leela (Aahana Kumra) who is madly in love with her photographer boyfriend and uses every opportunity to have sex with him who offended Pahlaj ji so much. After all, Leela is engaged to be married to another man against her wishes. The horror!
Or wait, more, much more frightening is Usha (Ratna Pathak), called Buaji by the entire planet, and her late blooming desires. When Buaji trembles as she utters her name for the first time on screen to a young, muscular swimming instructor, Pahlaj ji probably lost it.
It would, however, be an injustice to make this review about Pahlaj ji because that would defeat the film's greatest achievement - keeping men and their self-important views to the fringes and focusing on what the women want to do and what they think about the world around them.
At one point, Leela's fiance takes her to his house and tells her enthusiastically that since they have a TV, it's unnecessary for anyone to step outside at all. Leela, who is consumed by wanderlust, looks back at him, equal parts amused and astonished that this, this can be the boundaries that men think women would be happy to reside within.
Alankrita Shrivastava gives us these colliding worlds - that of male assumptions about women and women's own dreams - without, at any point, turning her film into a lecture.
Instead, what we're given is decidedly a female universe of confidences and conspiring silences, capturing the ease with which women reach out to each other and play hooky right below the disapproving nose of a patriarchal society.
It is by authentically representing these bonds which are forged when facing a common enemy, no matter how unlikely the friendships seem, that Alankrita makes Lipstick under my burkha a memorable film.
All four actors who've played the principal roles are terrific, but if one had to pick, it has to be Ratna Pathak who steals the show with her portrayal of a middle-aged woman trying to live out the fantasies in the racy novels that she reads.
Do the women get what they want? Lipstick under my burkha is not a wish fulfillment film, so it's not the kind of happy ending Bollywood will give you. But erm...it will remind you that there are other kinds of happy endings that can please a woman, too. Sorry, Pahlaj ji, this is an 'A' review.