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‘Initially Thought Lipstick Under My Burkha Would Be A Small Film’ – Konkona Sen Sharma

‘Burkha and bikini are two extremes of women oppression’

Lipstick Under My Burkha could easily be one of the most revolutionary Indian film in the recent past. If you’ve watched the movie you’d definitely know what we’re talking about, but in case you haven’t, we spoke to actress Konkona Sen Sharma, who’s playing a burkha-clad homemaker in the film. She talks about the film’s making, controversies and how it all affected her personally. Excerpts: 

What do you think about the boom of Indie cinema in India?

I don’t watch a lot of films but it seems like everywhere we have a few good independent films.

Is it difficult to get into the shoes of an actor after having directed a film?

I haven’t acted in a film after having directed a film but I think if anything, it would be easy because one has a sense of the bigger picture. 

How has being a part of Lipstick Under My Burkha affected you as a person?

When I first got the script, I read it and loved it and told Alankrita that I would do it. At that time, I really thought that it would be a small film with just a few of us since it’s a story of four women. But I really liked it and my role, and the characters of all the women. And I thought it was an important film with things that one doesn’t normally look into very much. I loved it but looking at the reality, I thought it would be small film. So today I’m just so happy that there are so many people supporting our film and things like the ‘lipstick rebellion,’ and so many people know about the film. Now when we’re doing the promotions for the film, they’re not only talking about the film but they’re also talking about marriages that consider women in general. I’m thrilled that it found a much bigger canvas which it deserves and I hope that it will reflect the audience-sensitivity and make their eyes open to watching all kinds of films and that it will be one of those films that everyone will enjoy and like.

What are some things you did to prepare for this role?

I read the script quite a few times and felt that it was well-written and had a few discussions with Alankrita and we also did an acting workshop with Akhil M. He’s an absolutely wonderful co-actor and very supportive.

How was it to work with the director Alankrita Shrivastava, what was your experience like on the film?

It was really nice to work with her. I felt that she really knew what she wanted and had a clear idea of what the tone of the film was and it was easy to communicate with her. She’s very light-hearted, receptable and it’s a pleasure to work with her.

Do you think you have something in common with your character or do you think it’s entirely different from what you are as a person?

Well, both actually, because the character I’m playing is from Bhopal and from a lower middle class background and conservative family. She has three children and she’s not able to go out of her house. In that sense there are differences from my reality but at the same time I find that women generally have a lot in common because it doesn’t matter what community or religion you’re from, what our nationality is. Women have a lot in common and those things are dictated by society. The two extremes of this example are the burkha and the bikini. There are some women for whom the burkha has been dictated to and there are women on the other end of the spectrum who have internalised what people are telling them to do, in terms of having a bikini-ready body or to become totally hairless; these are also terms that are dictated to us and that. We have also internalised them in both cases. I find that there is actually a lot in common regardless of these kind of divisions. I also have a lot of respect and admiration for Shireen Aslam (my character in the film) because the kind of liberties and freedom that I take for granted coming from an urban, educated background are things she cannot take for granted. And yet, she tries to fulfill her own dreams, ambitions and desires and she had to negotiate how to go about it like where are the little things in the system, where are the loopholes in the thinking, what she can get away with and what she can’t, how much control she can exert over her own life are things she is constantly trying to figure out. I find it very inspiring and heart breaking at the same time, because as women we’ve all unfortunately not progressed equally.

Do you have any memorable anecdotes from the making of the film that you’d like to share?

First I would say that it was wonderful visiting Bhopal because I hadn’t visited it before and it’s a beautiful city with good food; and thankfully with a wonderful cast and crew. I had taken my son along with me for one of the shorter schedules of the shoot. I had a very lovely experience. And I also met few of my future crew members on the set, including actors like Vikrant Massey.