Is That Lipstick Really Under My Burkha?

Lipstick Under My Burkha makes a point about how society treats women, but it would have been better if these women had stood up for themselves.

Lipstick Under My Burkha makes a point about how society treats women, but it would have been better if these women had stood up for themselves.

Alright, I know I am really behind schedule, and watching Lipstick under my Burkha just last week, is after all watching it a tad bit too late. A lot has been written and spoken about it already. However, I hope you understand and allow me to voice my take on this one.

Before I indulge myself, let me clarify that I wear a burkha myself. Well, it is really not called a burkha and is not black in color and does not cover my face. I, like many other women from my community, wear it everywhere we go.

The stereotyping of women

Now, coming back to the film, first of all, I was a little taken aback by the fact that the burkha, here meaning the structured societal façade which does not allow women to let others see their true identity and purpose, is quite literally used as a prop for two major characters in the film. These two protagonists who belong to the Muslim community, and somehow the other two of the four protagonists have been stereotyped too.

Wearing the burkha, not being allowed to work or sing and dance, forced to get pregnant and yet not being able to voice out against all of these in loud, vocal gestures forms the crux of both these characters. The other two Hindu ladies are stereotyped too, in the way of a bua who is thrown out of her house after a discovery that could well be hidden inside the household if it were considered taboo, rather than over-emphasizing it by making her exit from the house a public spectacle. The other girl Leela, is another typical example of how some men tend to be confused over women, and how women too sometimes tend to play along with the confusion, not taking a stand or being honest themselves.

For all the rave appreciation that the movie got, I found it disappointing to see that though many important issues were raised, the women characters themselves were hardly any examples to follow. Not one was really inspiring, or was brave enough to speak up and break free no matter what the consequences.

And finally, the burkha is often misinterpreted just as the stories of these women.

Hiding under the ‘burkha’

Yes, society has different standards for women, it does shackle and bind and it does hold too many restrictions on us at every step and phase of our lives. Rules are the same everywhere and for every little freedom that we crave for, we need to give explanations to the guardians of our freedom. I understand that this happens to many women; however, I do have a slight problem with the way the veil is generalized. I sometimes wonder if those who call themselves modern, wearing designer clothes, do not hide their lipsticks under their garbs as well. Like one of the other characters from the film, the college going wannabe who is pregnant and quite stupid to not stand for herself. She takes revenge by bringing another person down, when she has no courage to raise a child of her own.

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The film to me is hence brilliant in not pointing fingers at the society, but pointing fingers at women themselves. Each of the four characters in the film, are stymied by other female characters as much as by men. The sisters in law of the bua who throw her out of the house, the mother of the aspiring travel agent who thinks making a career is limited to only selling skin, the other women in the life of the husband who doesn’t mind having an affair with a married woman, and the mother of the rock star aspirant who slaps her and shoves at her clothes to be stitched in every scene. And that is probably a lesson in life too.

We raise slogans and call out men who do not respect women. Rightly so – their perception and respect for women need to be addressed. At the same time, women need to take a look at themselves too. Wearing or not wearing a burkha is a personal choice, and in no way should and does make you feel weaker. Courage steps beyond all facades and obstacles and what the film genuinely lacks is to bring out the strength of women. All four women characters are just victimizing themselves and I see no reason as to why they should not just stop taking crap from anyone.

Why do women find taking the right steps so difficult?

And so here is a piece of advice. Society has and does impose many perceptions of what and how a woman should be and behave. The problem is, most women agree to these themselves.

Rehana, instead of hiding should have tried to explain to her parents what she felt about music and dance. You may argue that her parents would not listen and would curb whatever little freedom she had. However, if the parents have allowed her to go to a reputed college to pursue an education, how coercing could they be? On the other hand, the scene where her father talks to her in jeep, he asks her very decently where he went wrong in raising her. This surely called for some sort of conversation from her side. Instead, she sits like a forlorn statue.

Leela should have confined in her fiancé if she didn’t wish to marry him and Shireen (though we do not know) should just leave her husband and concentrate on her job. Why do women find taking the right steps so difficult? What stops them from just doing what they know is right in an upright honest way? Why should they blame the burkha when they are not willing to shed it off openly themselves?

I know this is easier said than done, but…

Yes, all easier said than done, and I am no fool to not understand this. Our grandmothers, mothers, aunts and sisters know this. You and I know this. That no matter how advanced we think we are we still expect our women to be in a certain way. Most guys still want ‘decent’ girls who can cook and take care of his parents as his wife. Most parents still want their daughters in law to not work so that she can handle the house. Most men still give directions and advice to their women friends in spite of them being less experienced. And the list can go on.

Women first need to break out of the molds society has designed for them. The kind of society portrayed in the film is more prone to adhere to archaic rules applicable to women only. However, a story that shows the weakness of the women shoved conveniently under the burkha of patriarchy is nothing less than misleading.

Each of these women could have courageously decided to follow their paths and dreams, and if after that society punished them, it would have been more reflective of how things work in real life, in my opinion. But to see that each of these characters, in turn, meaning each one of us, have the strength, talent, imagination and smartness to dream, and yet we contain it or hide it to suit others, is a huge waste.

To justify our inhibitions and wrong doings as a result of actions of other people, worse, as a result of what you think other people may do, is amateurish. Teenagers can behave this way, not grownups.

My heart genuinely does go out for the bua, who is probably the one strong woman who runs her life on her own terms, and it would be interesting to see her back on her feet, away from her so called family, being happy and enjoying life as it is. As for the others, the open ended conclusion works, since as for most women, life is not really about completion of a goal, but the struggle and strength that goes into each day to be allowed to be ambitious, to be allowed to bloom and to be allowed to breathe.

Header image is a still from the movie Lipstick Under My Burkha

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