Lipstick Dreams

The last scene of Lipstick Under My Burkha resonates, in a rather curious fashion, with the book I happen to be reading at present, Reading Lolita in Tehran. As the various men in power say their piece and move away, ostensibly to get a good night’s sleep, the women protagonists of the movie are left, quite literally, to pick up the shreds of their existence. They gather around the remains of the forbidden romance novel capturing the sexual fantasies of Rosie, in what is, on the face of it, an impromptu reading session, but in effect, captures the essence of what director Alankrita Shrivastava is trying to say throughout.

What makes Lipstick an engaging watch is that its women are feminist by the sheer dint of being real. The characters range from the college-going Rehana (trying to reconcile teenaged rebellion with her cultural identity) and Leela (the beautician whose dreams are bigger than an arranged marriage in a small town) to the older Shireen (a saleswoman struggling to carve a niche for herself within and outside her marriage) and middle-aged Usha (rediscovering her sexual identity through telephone sex). Each is flawed in her own way, and therein lies her perfection.

Perhaps it is the gift of a stellar cast at the hands of a female director, but Lipstick manages, for the most part, what movies claiming to be pro-women generally don’t — well-fleshed out female characters that make both appropriate and inappropriate choices, and have dynamic personalities extending beyond but not necessarily in alienation of the men in their lives. So, Usha Buaji (aunt)’s desire to read racy romance magazines is not at odds with her solid business sense, and Shireen’s success on the professional front does not erode her desire to keep her family intact at any cost.

Another stroke of brilliance that the script possesses is a fine sense of balance, be it in its portrayal of right and wrong, or in capturing a whole spectrum of sexual desire. So, on the one hand, where you find yourself rooting for the women taking the obligation of a Burkha and turning it around to live their dreams, you also find them facing up to the repercussions of some of their ill-thought out actions. The women of Lipstickknow that all is not well with the world, and thankfully, the director doesn’t sweep in with a magic wand to make the young swimming instructor fall for Usha, or for Shireen’s husband to suddenly realise how much potential his wife has, or for the police to let shoplifter Rehana off with a warning even as Leela’s nice fiancé comes back with a clichéd “Main thaamunga tumhara haath” (“I will take you back”, or some such shit). Lipstick Under My Burkhaconcludes the way such events in life usually do, with a lot of tears, an occasional giggle and a mountain of understanding, collapsing upon you all at once.

The best part isn’t even really obvious until you focus on what’s not happening in this movie. Halfway across the movie, it hits me that these women are, for the most part, all very non-judgemental of each other. In what is a refreshing change from the “A woman is another woman’s worst enemy” trope, we see Shireen helping Usha buy her bathing suit, and Leela acknowledging that Shireen’s need to be touched affectionately by her husband isn’t something she should be hiding. Even as Rehana’s classmate gets her arrested and lashes out at her in anger, we don’t really see the typical “You stole my boyfriend” scene. The anger is directed towards the legitimate recipient, the man who got one woman pregnant before leaving her for another. The final scene is a silent war cry and a flame of solidarity all at once, as the women read the end of the novel and share a cigarette. And as you watch, perhaps you would wonder, like I did, if the next day, Shireen would hand in a resignation at work, and the widowed Usha be sent away to Kashi (a city where abandoned widows live in India). Maybe Leela would choose to not run away to Delhi with her boyfriend, and Rehana would eventually complete her degree through distance-learning. And if you’re reading this, maybe you’re a woman who has the ability to make some, or all of these choices for yourself. The question is- If you aren’t wearing as much (or as little) lipstick as you want, who and what are you waiting for?

Usha Khanna

Having grown up listening to old melodious Bollywood songs, I know of many famous music directors such as O.P. Nayyar, R.D. Burman, S.D. Burman, Laxmikant-Pyarelal etc. One day, it suddenly occurred to me how I’d never heard of a female music director in Bollywood. Upon asking, my parents told me about Usha Khanna, who was the third female music director in a primarily male dominated industry after Jaddan Bai and Saraswati Devi.

 

usha1.jpg
Usha Khanna with Mohd. Rafi and Kishore Kumar  Source:www.mohdrafi.com

Usha Khanna was one of the most commercially successful music directors from 1960s to 1980s. She is a personality who entered the industry at 17, and someone who is not very often remembered, despite delivering hit songs like “Dil deke dekho”, “Chhodo kal ki baatein” and “Dil ke tukde tukde karke muskurake chal diye” to name a few. She has composed music for over 120 movies, and had a particularly close association with legendary singer Mohd. Rafi and also with Asha Bhosle. In 1979, K.J. Yesudas also won the Filmfare Award for playback for the song “Dil ke tukde tukde” composed by her.

Knowing well the trials and difficulties faced by newcomers in the industry she encouraged several first timers, including some that went on to become famous, such as Sonu Nigam, Roopkumar Rathod, Pankaj Udhas etc. She has also composed for Malayalam films like Moodal Manju and Puthooram Puthri Unnayarcha.

Listen to this melodious number composed by Usha Khanna from the movie ‘Hum Hindustani’-

Among the upcoming youngsters in the profession is Sneha Khanwalkar, whose notable compositions are for the movies Oye Lucky Lucky Oye and Gangs of Wasseypur 1 &2.

I end tonight’s post with the upbeat song from GoW-

Why I will say a Hi to ‘Dear Zindagi’

images-8*Don’t read if you are spoiler-averse*

I’m not a person who posts reviews on Facebook for every movie that I go and watch. I have a simple rule- people do not need to know what I’m doing, where I’m doing, how I’m feeling, etc at all times.

And having watched Dear Zindagi a week ago, I was planning to continue this streak. Until I happened to refresh my newsfeed on that omniscient social app, Facebook and came across several people writing about how this particular movie was atrocious in indescribable ways. I know it possibly doesn’t matter, but I beg to differ.

I went to watch this movie with an open mind and zero expectations, despite hearing things such as “it talks about mental health” and “the director is the same lady who made English Vinglish“.  Deviating for a moment here, the latter movie, Director Gauri Shinde’s debut, revolved around a phenomenon that seems simple but is deeply entrenched in our society, what one could call a mix of ‘language shaming’ and ‘housewife shaming’. Shashi wasn’t abused, or molested, or cheated on- she possibly didn’t have any so-called ‘major problems’, but the character struck a chord with the audiences.

Moving on to Dear Zindagi, Alia’s Kaira doesn’t have ‘major problems’ either. She is not schizophrenic or bipolar, she doesn’t have a medical condition per se, she hasn’t been sexually abused as a child. She has a job. She has a family and friends. She has several attractive men in her life. So much so, that it might have you screaming, there is nothing wrong with her at all! She even has a dimpled therapist, played by SRK, who gives her weird stories and analogies by the second, that make her feel enlightened in life.

Why then am I saying that this movie deserves a “Hi”and not a “Bye”to quote a particularly inane song from the movie (which by the way is amazing if you want to walk/jog) ?

  1. It highlights something we often forget- every one of us is insane. Never apologize for your particular brand of it. (If it gets out of hand, please go to a qualified (not SRK) therapist though)
  2. It shows you that there are a lot of things adults can do to children that is not abuse but messes them up nonetheless. Please have children at your own risk.
  3.  It tells you that when you’re listening to someone, you must listen to them, without blabbering suggestions and delivering judgements by the minute.
  4. The most honest thing that the therapist says in the entire movie (albeit in a rather SRK fashion)- You need to take care of yourself. Everyone else can only help you along.
  5. Last but not the least, it talks about things. Normal ordinary things. Like parents thinking you’re homosexual if you don’t want to get married. Like you yourself, gazing into the mirror, defiantly saying “I’m a slut, and proud of it”. Like that childhood doll they didn’t keep safely- it seems stupid to get annoyed about that 20 years later but you still do.

Yes, it doesn’t reflect the depths of mental health issues or the realities of therapy. It makes typical Bollywood style jokes at times (that I am not excusing at all). But you can’t ignore the fact that from movies where the only task of the actress was to wait for the hero to dance around a tree with her, we’ve come a long way. Middle-class people, people who still think being lesbian is a “phase” and that seeing a therapist means you’re “mad”, people who think “parents know best”, people like that are going to see a movie like this.And amidst all the song and dance, and a simplistic two hour resolution of a problem, if amidst all of that, Shah Rukh Khan and Alia Bhatt tell people that it is okay to be single, poly-amorous, straight, lesbian or anything at all, and even if 50% of the people think about it for a while, well I’m okay with that.

If people go and see this movie and if they come back and spend an hour with their kids instead of an hour on their smartphones or talking about work, I’m okay with that. Among other things, cinema exists to reflect the dimensions of reality, yes, but it also exists to communicate to the masses. And if this is the language the masses understand, I’m okay with that, as long as they get the message.