VIFF Review: ‘Lipstick Under My Burkha’ is hilarious, heartbreaking, and hopeful

Lipstick Under My Burkha is a hilarious movie that explores the daily lives of women in India. It’s also a heartbreaking movie that explores the daily lives of women in India. It’s a movie that has to be hilarious because if it wasn’t, it would just be heartbreaking, and it’s important that this story end with some hope.

The story follows four women who all live on the same block. Rehana (Plabita Borthakur) is a college girl who loves Miley Cyrus, to dance, and protests against banning women from wearing jeans on her college campus but returns home each wearing a burkha, one of many she helps make in her conservative family’s shop. Leela (Aahana Kumra) is a woman with aspirations of running away with her boyfriend and starting her own business all behind the back of her dullard fiancĂ©. Shirin (Konkona Sen Sharma) is a housewife who has a successful career as a door to door salesperson while her husband is away for work, but is reduced to an object for his pleasure when he’s home, and Usha (Ratna Pathak Shah) is an older widow who is referred to by everyone on the block as auntie, who enjoys erotic fiction and longs for some male attention.

Each of them has their own struggle against the misogyny that permeates Indian society but each of their struggles comes down to sex in some form. Rehana longs to wear cool clothes and make-up, all of which she has to steal so she won’t get caught actually buying them and being punished by her parents for being immodest. Early in the film she is sent to her room simply for dancing more provocatively than they deem appropriate. Leela is trapped into an arranged marriage but steals away for a quickie in the back room with her photographer during her own engagement party. Shirin wants nothing more than for her husband to wear a condom not only because she has a painful infection but she doesn’t want any more children, concerns he is callously dismissive of. Usha, widow and matriarch of the whole block, sneaks away swimming lessons simply to spend time with the young swim coach, and all because (initially) he showed some interest in her directly, not her as matriarch.

Each of these stories are only loosely interwoven but all them have familiar beats and endings. Ultimately these are four women who simply want to be free to live their lives the way they want to and not the way their male dominated society wants them to. Each story is funny, affirming, heart warming, and heart breaking in they own ways, and as a whole they offer an intriguing glance into the life of women in India, and about the tiny victories they celebrate among the daily and ongoing oppression that they suffer.