Bollywood’s Sexual Content Caters Only To Male Gaze, Says Alankarita Shrivastava
“The one movie that comes to my mind first is Raanjhanaa,” said Alankrita Shrivastava, the director of the controversial film Lipstick Under My Burkha, when asked about the last film that she saw and didn’t really like.
“It’s not really the last movie that I saw and didn’t like, but it’s beyond understanding why such a film would be so popular; especially because even by the end of it, the protagonist’s stalking of the lead actress is not denounced.”
This summed up our conversation with the Jamia grad ahead of the release of her second directorial venture on July 21. Her upcoming female-centric film was one of the many that have of late come under the bizarre scrutiny of the latest Central Board of Film Certification (CPFC) committee, led by Pahlaj Nihalani.
The reasons for denial of certificate to the Konkona Sen Sharma-starrer listed by CBFC in a letter reportedly included the story being ‘lady oriented,’ containing ‘sexual scenes, abusive words, audio pornography’ and a being a ‘bit sensitive’ about ‘one particular section of society.’
And this is exactly what the film is fighting for, according to Alankrita. “There is so much sexual content already in our films — the item songs with vulgar thrusts, the camera moving up and down a woman’s body and so much more. All of this though caters to the male gaze, and the moment you talk about the Woman’s perspective, everyone gets uncomfortable.”
“We, as audiences, are almost trained to consume a particular form of sexual content where everything revolves around pleasing a man. The woman is simply restricted to being either the virtuous wife or the virginal figure, who has no desires of her own. There is simply no character development.”
“Challenging this, our film revolves around the lives of ordinary women. They are not rich; just ordinary, working class women.”
Coming back to the CBFC issue, the filmmaker revealed that the ordeal lasted almost six months, beginning from December last year. It was during this period that she penned the letter on social media calling it an ‘assault on woman’s rights.’
“Once the CBFC refused to certify the film, we followed the standard procedure and headed to the Film Certification Appellate Tribunal (FCAT) in Delhi. Few weeks later, the film was granted an ‘A’ certificate, but still the CBFC kept making excuses to approve it. The FCAT finally put their foot down and then the release date was decided.”
When asked if the problem with women’s rights existed at large in Bollywood, for the convoluted nature of statements made by many A-listers, Alankrita said that the issue plagues our society as a whole.
“Women are confused with the meaning of feminism. They don’t understand that it is essentially about equal rights. I feel bad for them. But when you are saying that you are not a feminist, it’s like you’re flushing the efforts of the women who have stood up for your rights through the generations down the drain. That said the people that I know from the industry are all pretty vocal about their feminist thoughts and have been supportive of the film as well.”
One of the figures of support for the Turning 30 filmmaker through her fight has been her mentor Prakash Jha, who is also the producer of the film. She has assisted him on the sets of Apahran, Gangajal and Rajneeti.
“Whatever I’ve learnt is from the Prakash Jha school of filmmaking. The best part is that he has always encouraged me to have my own voice and to tell the stories that I want to tell. Plus he’s taken the financial risk of producing Lipstick Under My Burkha and his courage has rubbed off in testing times.”
Before its theatrical release, the film, which also features veteran Ratna Pathak and new faces Aahana Kumar and Plabita Borthakur in prominent roles, has already garnered praise from critics. It won the Oxfam Award for the Best Film on Gender Equality at the Mumbai Film Festival and the Spirit of Asia prize at the Tokyo International Film Festival.
Talking about her expectations post release, Alankrita said that she only wishes that the people who come to watch the movie, experience the entire set of emotions along with the characters for two hours – from the heartbreaks and the joy to the passion and the tears and their secret acts of rebellion.
“It’s not a frothy film. It’s very very honest, like the real lives of our bua’s and mausi’s.”
Images: Lipstick Under My Burkha Facebook Page