2017 Milwaukee Film Festival – Review – LIPSTICK UNDER MY BURKHA
There has been at least one U.S. premiere at this year’s Milwaukee Film Festival. LIPSTICK UNDER MY BURKHA, part of the Worldviews program, isn’t quite a premiere but ironically it’s probably easier to watch it in Milwaukee than in its native country of India where it was quickly pulled as being too risque. By American standards, LIPSTICK UNDER MY BURKHA is relatively tame, which perhaps leaves it with no ideal market, but at the very least it has something to say.
LIPSTICK UNDER MY BURKHA follows four Indian women of various ages as they deal with their status and desires in a man dominated society. As free as American films are of restrictions, it’s the rare film that really deals with women’s desires on even a semi-serious basis, so I have to imagine that this is really boundary pushing for India. Particularly, as it finds a way to take a look at wide cross section of women. Usha is a 55 year old widow who has to gratify her desires through romance novels, before being struck by a handsome young swimming coach and anonymously calling him. Shireen is a married mother of three boys, who’s husband doesn’t appreciate her, even though she’s a whiz as a saleswoman and could help support the family. Leela is the intended bride of an arranged marriage, who would rather continue a torrid affair with her poor boyfriend. Rehana is a teenage girl who dreams of chucking off her burkha and becoming the next Miley Cyrus, shoplifting to support her fashion sense, and protesting to allow girls to wear jeans.
At its best, the film touches on these issues with almost a light touch to where it’s almost a comedy. It’s a much better strategy than being a dull screed and it allows for various nuances to be gleaned from these situations. Certainly, we may be sympathetic to these women, but we also have to acknowledge that they’re engaging in various deceits. Those deceits generate a fair amount of stakes for the film in terms of drama. It also makes them more than long suffering martyrs, but rather into flawed but sympathetic human beings.
In addition to the interesting human characters at the center of the film, filmmaker Alankrita Shrivastava also captures many of the strengths of Indian films. It’s full of colors, music, dancing, and altogether vibrant. It’s really a pleasure to watch purely based on visuals.
Unfortunately, LIPSTICK UNDER MY BURKHA really isn’t able to come up with a really satisfying ending. In particular, all of the stories pretty much end up in the same place and it’s frustrating. It certainly makes a legitimate point in how it chooses to end, but when you have four central characters perhaps a variety of endings are in order. If there’s one place where the film seems to be placing its ideas ahead of its story, it’s the ending.
Still, for the most part, it’s a pretty entertaining journey. There are clearly some bumps along the way and the ending is rocky and feels incomplete, but it’s also a film that I think people will come away from glad they saw it. I know, quibbles and all, I’m glad I watched LIPSTICK UNDER MY BURKHA.
LIPSTICK UNDER MY BURKHA will be playing once more at the 2017 Milwaukee Festival. The next screening is Sunday, October 8, 2017 at 4:30 pm at the Fox-Bay Cinema Grill. Tickets can be purchased online at the Milwaukee Film Festival website or at box office locations at various venues. The 2017 Milwaukee Film Festival runs from September 28 to October 12, 2017.