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Banned at Home, 'Lady-Oriented' Indian Film Finds Audiences in U.S., Abroad

The film won awards at the 2016 Tokyo Film Festival and the 2016 Mumbai Film Festival, but was denied certification in India.
A still taken from "Lipstick Under My Burkha."
A still taken from "Lipstick Under My Burkha."Jignesh Panchal

Alankrita Shrivastava began working on her second feature film with the intent of showing the ups, downs, heartbreaks, joys, and passions of a diverse group of women.

But the Indian filmmaker never expected that “Lipstick Under My Burkha” would raise concerns that have currently banned it from being shown in India, even as it opened the Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles earlier this week and is scheduled to open the New York Indian Film Festival on April 30.

A still taken from "Lipstick Under My Burkha."Jignesh Panchal

“When I started, it was just a film about four ordinary women and their secrets and desires,” Shrivastava told NBC News. “I never started this as a crusade. The film is what it is because of my politics and what I believe.”

The film revolves around four main characters: a Hindu woman with a Hindu fiancé and a Muslim boyfriend, a 55-year-old Hindu widow who lusts after her swimming instructor, a Muslim mother of three who is married to a repressive husband, and a Muslim burkha-wearing college student who aspires to become a pop singer.

Together, the stories of the four women challenge the sexual and social status quo in India's society.

“Lipstick Under My Burkha” has been screened at a dozen film festivals worldwide and has won multiple awards, including the Spirit of Asia Prize at the 2016 Tokyo Film Festival and the Oxfam Award for Best Film on Gender Equality at the 2016 Mumbai Film Festival.

Yet despite the accolades it has received, earlier this year, the film was denied certification by the Central Board of Film Certification in India, according to Shrivastava.

“The story is lady oriented, their fantasy above life,” a letter apparently from the board released by Shrivastava reads, noting that there are “sexual scenes, abusive words, audio pornography and a bit sensitive touch about one particular section of society...”

Shrivastava said she felt the board's decision was wrong and unfair and that what the board objects to wasn't clear, though she has been told that there was a problem with the entire film. The certification denial is currently being appealed, according to the Times of India.

“They're distraught by the feminism and feminist politics of the film, which basically means they’re perpetuating patriarchy. They feel the film raises some sort of uncomfortable questions about whether women are fulfilled or happy in these prescribed roles of patriarchy,” Shrivastava said.

Alankrita ShrivastavaArijay Prasad

She also noted that while sex is shown in many Indian films, “Lipstick Under My Burkha” contains no nudity.

“It's just that a lot of those other films are from the male point of view. It's all for male consumption and to satisfy male desires,” she said.

Despite this hurdle, Shrivastava said she and plans to continue fighting until “Lipstick Under My Burkha” receives certification.

“I also feel like if their idea is to discourage me from making films like this, even then they've failed because I'm going to continue making films which are 'lady-oriented',” she said.

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