Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Bareilly Ki Barfi—The Ingredients of Love


As the title of Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari's Bareilly Ki Barfi suggests, the film is a short and a sweet love story. It is inspired by The Ingredients of Love by Nicolas Barreau. Set in Bareilly, the film is about Bitti (Kriti Sanon). She thinks she has a lot of 'flaws' in her, which is why she is not able to find a groom. She runs away from her house, and serendipitously reads a book titled Bareilly Ki Barfi whose lead character is exactly like her. The book is ostensibly written by Pritam Vidrohi (Rajkummar Rao); however, he was forced to be the writer by the book's actual writer and publisher Chirag Dubey (Ayushmann Khurrana). Bitti wants to meet Pritam as she thinks he will understand her, and she reaches out to Chirag to find more about him. What follows is a nice and a humorous tale that has shades of Lawrence D'Souza's Saajan and Kunal Kohli's Mujhe Dosti Karoge!
One of the themes in Bareilly Ki Barfi is that people have flaws and one of the essential ingredients of love is to accept people with their flaws. Bitti keeps reiterating that she has many faults in her. In her first letter to Pritam, she writes that everyone sees faults in her, but he saw a positive aspect in those faults. When Bitti decides to get engaged to Pritam, she again explains to Chirag that Pritam likes her the way she is, and accepts her with all her flaws. Bitti will not change herself to get married to someone. In another related moment, Pritam's mother keeps on pestering him that he should take care of himself better. He rhetorically questions her that perhaps he has all the faults, which makes one conjecture that his mousy underconfident personality could be a consequence of his mother's constant complaints. The film never delves deeper into this aspect of him, but this underscores the concept of flaws that Bitti also mentioned. It is fascinating to watch how effortlessly Pritam becomes this new person Badass Babua who is the polar opposite of him. Perhaps, he always had this side to him, but he never got a chance to flourish. We see even Chirag trying to become who he is really not. He is also hiding some aspect of him. He behaves a little differently with everyone. There is a point in the film when Chirag schemes for Pritam's downfall and his friend Munna jokes with him that he is 'neech' (villain). Later, Munna takes back his words and he tells him he is not 'neech' (villain) after Chirag is not able to say the truth to Bitti as he cannot break her heart. There is a shift in the film as to who the hero is and who the villain is. In fact, at some other point, the voice-over tells us, "Ek chaalbaaz nahi, dusra rangbaaz nahi, par love ki leela dekhiye, ek chaal bana raha hai, aur dusra chaal jama raha hai." One is not a schemer; the other is not a bully. But strange are the ways of love that one is hatching schemes, and the other is taking on an attitude. It is this whole aspect of being true to yourself, not becoming someone else, and accepting people with flaws, is what the film tries to portray and reward its characters. 
The film has some really hilarious scenes, but also has some lovely little moments. When it is Chirag's birthday, Bitti takes him to her family shop whose board reads Lovela Sweets, as the ee ki matra fell off in the rain. She takes him inside and puts a candle on one of the sweets, making it a little birthday cake, like Sid did for Aisha in Wake Up Sid where he made a bread-jam cake on her birthday. The name Chirag means a lamp of light. When Chirag is reading his letter in the end, he stands in front of numerous little lamps. At some point, while he is reading, the electricity goes off, and the only light present is the one from the lamps. It is a beautiful touch where the man whose name is Chirag is standing in front of little chirags, proposing to his lover who is compared to a sweet. It is also quite befitting that a man who opposes the hero's love is named Pritam Vidrohi—Lover Rebel
In Vikas Bahl's Queen, Rani was the docile daughter whose father was the proprietor of a sweet shop. She was naïve and ingenuous. She was studying home science. At one stage, her fiancé Vijay says that she is as sweet as sugar syrup. He refuses to marry Rani days before the wedding, and she is heartbroken. Bitti from Bareilly Ki Barfi is also the daughter of a sweet-shop owner. Bitti is also a barfi. However, Bitti, even though belonging to a small town, is nothing like Rani, from the supposedly modern Delhi. She smokes cigarettes, drinks alcohol, eats non-vegetarian food, does break dance, and watches English movies. She does not listen to her parents. She is independent and works in the customer care department of the electricity board. She will go on to meet someone who is like Surinder Sahni from Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi, who also used to work in the electricity department. Punjab Power, lighting up your life. Surinder Sahni this side ji. But the most interesting aspect of Bitti was her relationship with her father. Narrotam Mishra raised Bitti with the freedom to do whatever she wants. Bitti is called as the son of her father. There is a lovely moment in the film when he comes and offers her a cigarette. She declines, but there is an image in which both of them are actually smoking. When was the last time we saw a scene where a normal (and not some villainous) father and a daughter shared a smoke together? Then, Bitti tells him that being a girl is a disaster. He then tells her that he does not believe in these norms but eventually, they have to live in the same society. As Bitti told he is a Libran, perhaps, that is why he is able to maintain this balance. At some other point, there is a Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge reference in the film, where Bitti compares herself to Simran and tells her friend Rama that Raj should know how her Simran looks like when she is sending her picture to Pritam. Taking it a little further, one can visualize the strict relationship that Simran had with her Bauji is in complete contrast with the less formal, almost friendly relationship that Bitti had with her father. Simran had to literally beg her father to let her go so that she can marry Raj. In Bareilly Ki Barfi, Bitti has already decided she will marry Chirag; however, just before she puts the ring on him, she still asks for his father's permission. Of course, he will not object to it.
There are some other really laugh-out-loud moments in the film, such as the one where Pritam says, "Rangbaaz log dekhte hi nahi hai," when he is asked to behave like a bully. The setting, the location, and the dialogue seem authentic. Debit and credit card expected (sic). Aasteen ka anaconda. Rama tells Bitti that she has a boutique and not a shop. Performances are splendid by everyone, especially by Pankaj Tripathi, Seema Pahwa, and Rajkummar Rao. It is as if they have belonged to this small-town milieu since forever. However, at places, Kriti Sanon felt too sophisticated for the part of Bitti. And, as much as I love Ayushmann Khurrana (#BublaForever), he feels a tad too urbane as Chirag. I guess these are minor quibbles and it requires more thought on the importance of actors 'looking' the part. But I was happy that unlike Meri Pyaari Bindu, he gets his Bindu Bitti here because writers should also have a happy ending, sometimes. 

Trivia
Songs used in the background
Titanic poster
Books in Movies
P.S.—At some point in the film, when they are in a boat, the boatman talks about Jawani Diwani and says it starred Hema Malini, Dharmendra and Vinod Khanna. After that, he starts singing the song Dreamgirl. Was it some kind of a joke as Jawani Diwani has no connection with the aforementioned three stars or the song?

P.P.S.—I have a personal connection with the city of Bareilly. My mother was born and raised in Bareilly. I have been there a few times when my grandmother and my mother's brother were alive. The last time I went there was in 2004 and I still remember I watched Koi...Mil Gaya on cable TV there. Bareilly is largely known for its surma (kohl). Mera Saaya's Jhoomka Gira Re made Bareilly famous in films. Let's see how much impact Bareilly Ki Barfi has on the popularity of the city.

Other Reading:
1. Of Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi, and TamashaLink

Dialogue of the Day:
"Pyaar kiya hai Munna, kurbaani toh deni padegi."
—Chirag, Bareilly Ki Barfi

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Mukti Bhawan—Of Free Will

 
Shubhashish Bhutiani's Mukti Bhawan is the story of a seventy-seven-year-old man Daya (Lalit Behl), who thinks that his time of death has come. He wants to spend his last days in the holy place of Benaras. Daya's stubbornness forces his obedient son Rajiv (Adil Hussain) to take him there. They check into a place called Mukti Bhawan, a hotel for people who are waiting for their death. The hotel allows people to stay there for a maximum of fifteen days. During their stay, Daya and Rajiv let go of past resentments, form new bonds, and ultimately find salvation in different ways.
In Hinduism, the term mukti, also known as moksha, refers to the freedom from the cycle of death and rebirth. It is believed that the soul passes through a cycle of successive lives and its every rebirth is dependent on how the previous life was lived. And, people must take responsibility for their actions (karma) in their different lives. Mukti means permanent liberation from this cycle and is, thus, called as the ultimate goal. Mukti Bhawan is also essentially about freedom, and the freedom that is portrayed here is not just about moksha, but also the freedom and the desire to live life on your own terms. At some stage in the film, Daya asks Rajiv as to why did he stop writing the poems that he used to when he was a kid. Rajiv replies that it was Daya's stick in school that made him stop writing. Whenever something happened, Rajiv, being the teacher's son, was the one who was punished. As a father, Daya was probably too harsh with his son, forcing his own choices on Rajiv rather than letting him do what he wants. In what is another lifecycle of parenthood, Rajiv, the father, has become like his own father where now he is forcing his own choices on his daughter Sunita. Rajiv's daughter does not really like her fiancé but she is marrying him because Rajiv wants her to do so. Rajiv is initially aghast to know Sunita can drive a scooter, and was not in favor of her having a job. Rajiv carries some resentment in his heart against his father, and is inadvertently meting out the same treatment to his daughter that he got as a kid. He has become a version of his father. In fact, both of them are called ziddi—stubborn. While Daya talks about freedom from this world, the film is as much about Rajiv, where he learns to let go. The time he spends at Mukti Bhawan is also about his own salvation.
The sense of liberation is reiterated at other stages throughout the film. When Sunita and her mother are going back to their home, Daya advises Sunita to do whatever her heart wants. Vahi karna jo tere man ko accha lagta ho. At some other point in the film, Vimla and Daya are taking one of their walks together, and she tells him that death comes at its own will. Vimla tried to do that when she went hungry for many days, but it did not work. She has been waiting for almost eighteen years, but death comes at its own volition. It is as if making the point that if death follows its free will, then, what is stopping the mortal humans to do the things that they want to do. Vahi karna jo tere man ko accha lagta ho. After Vimla dies, Daya writes an obituary for her in which he tells us that Vimla is flying, and has become a free spirit. After Daya's own death, Sunita reads a few lines that he had written in his diary, where he writes a poem titled Mann Ki Karo Hamesha—Do what your heart says—again underscoring the theme of free will and liberation in the film. He wrote, "Karo vahi jo man ko bhaaye, varna jeevan bhar pachtaaye." At an earlier stage, when Daya gets sick, everyone thinks his time had come. During one of the nights he was not well, he and Rajiv have a tearful conversation where he admits he was not a good father to Rajiv. Just after this conversation, Daya gets better on his own the next morning as if this guilt that he had felt was something that was making him sick from inside and he is now free from it. Even the TV show that the residents of Mukti Bhawan watch regularly is named Udan Khatola—A Flying Vehicle.
Mukti Bhawan also tells us that one has to be ready for death. And, by being ready, it does not mean singing devotional songs and eating the food as that of the hermits, rather learning to let go. In an earlier scene, Vimla tells Daya and Rajiv that she has no problems staying alone as she has learnt to let go and is now waiting for death. When Daya fell sick, everyone thought he will die but he did not because he was not ready. Later, Daya learns to let go and asks Rajiv to go back as he felt he was again getting closer to his son. He will have to learn to live without the people, and without the worldly desires that he demanded, else he will never be ready. He has to become an elephant, who when its time of death is near, leaves everyone and goes to the jungle. Daya eventually becomes the elephant.
Use of height
There are many other beautiful touches in Mukti Bhawan. Since death plays an important role in the film, it is quite interesting that Rajiv works in a life insurance company, where he sells policies that benefit people after someone's death, in a way helping people prepare for their death. When a cockroach is found dead, Mishraji picks it up, and says it achieved salvation. Earlier this year, Vikramaditya Motwane's Trapped also had a cockroach that was eaten by Shaurya (Rajkummar Rao). Incidentally, that film also dealt with themes of freedom and entrapment in the modern day urban life.
Safe Life Insurance
There is also a little bit of Masaan and Piku in the film. As parents become older, they almost become like a child, requiring attention and care. They become cantankerous, but it is so difficult to abandon them. In one of his dreams, Rajiv kills his father. But, of course, it is only his sub conscience. As Alain de Botton's The School of Life has taught us, feelings like these are absolutely natural. Rajiv does not act on them; rather he takes the best possible care of his father, with great personal hardship.
I remember the scene from Delhi-6 when Roshan's grandmother starts preparing for her death. Vriksh bole paat se sun patte meri baat, iss jag ki yeh reet hai, ek aavat, se jaat. The tree said to the leaf, "This is the cycle of life; a leaf dies, another is born." Roshan, initially, finds the idea of preparing for death a bit morbid, but then he thinks that humans cannot control how they are born, but at least, they can plan how they are going to go away from earth. Mukti Bhawan also shows this preparation for death, but it is also one of the few films that talks about celebrating death. When Daya dies, he is sent off with a big celebration as he had wanted. Death is certain for every human on this planet, so, then, why not celebrate a life lived well. After all, what greater freedom there is other than a soul achieving its permanent mukti.

Trivia:
Navnindra Behl, who plays Vimla, and who also played a small part in Queen is the wife of Lalit Behl, and mother of Kanu Behl, who directed Titli.


Dialogue of the Day:
"Sapna toh antarman ki aankh hai."
—Mishraji, Mukti Bhawan

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Shuddh Desi Romance—Of Toilets and Cold Drinks

Recently, I came across a video essay by ScreenPrism that elaborated on the symbolism of toilets in Quentin Tarantino's Pulp Fiction. It explains that scenes with bathrooms and toilets precede major deaths in the film. These bathrooms represent the ultimate isolation—these are one of the only places where characters (and ourselves) are really alone, and death represents the ultimate loneliness. Thus, toilets symbolize death in the film. In Tarantino's other films as well, there is a repeating motif of a bathroom scene. 

While watching the video, I was reminded of Maneesh Sharma's Shuddh Desi Romance, a gem of a film based on the modern-day romantic relationships in India. Toilets play an important part in that film as well, and represent something related to relationshipsThroughout the film, the characters keep going to the toilet at crucial points. In fact, there are many scenes that are shot where the characters are sitting on the toilet seat itself. Early in the film, as soon as Goyal Saab (Rishi Kapoor) gets down from a bus, he asks the location of the toilet. Moments before Raghu (Sushant Singh Rajput) is about to get married to Tara (Vaani Kapoor), he wants to go to the toilet and, then, runs away from his own wedding. Toilet appears again when Raghu and Gayatri (Parineeti Chopra) are getting married. Goyal Saab tells one of the boys to not let Raghu go near the toilet as he might again escape. During this time, it is Gayatri who goes to the toilet. She smokes a cigarette while sitting on the toilet seat, and the words Pyaar Do, Pyaar Lo are written on the walls. Raghu also feels the need to go the toilet but his friend prevents him going there. Raghu beats up his friend, and they find out that this time Gayatri has run away. Then, the film's interval appears and instead of the usual 'Interval' being written, the words 'Bathroom Break' appear underscoring the importance of toilets in the film.
The use of toilets continues in the second half of the film as well. When Raghu is waiting for Tara at the airport, he is standing next to a pillar that has toilet written on it. At some later stage in the film, Tara's friend is getting married. Gayatri bumps into Raghu at this wedding. A lady asks Gayatri to accompany Raghu to pick-up Panditji from the railway station. However, given their history, Gayatri makes an excuse that she needs to go to the bathroom first. Sitting on the toilet seat, Gayatri explains her reasons for running away from her wedding with Raghu. While coming back from the railway station, Gayatri again wants to go to the bathroom and asks Raghu to come with her. Later, when they reach back at the wedding spot, Raghu and Gayatri meet near a mobile toilet that has the words 'Chalte Phirte Shauchalya' written on it. During the final moments of the film, when Raghu and Gayatri decide to get married for the second time and start having doubts for the second time, they both walk to the toilet again and run away. The repeating instances of the characters going to the toilet are pointing to the film's theme of the inability of the characters to commit to the relationship of the marriage. They are unable to hold on to the commitment of marriage, hence, they keep going to the toilet. When Goyal Saab asks a young boy if he plans to get married in the future, even he is non-committal and makes an excuse to go to the toilet. Toilet provides a space where the characters are alone and do the act by themselves, perhaps, pointing that they are happy being single, unbound to any ties. 
We never see Tara talking about or going to the toilet; it is mainly Gayatri and Raghu who cannot hold on. Tara, however, keeps asking for a thanda (a cold drink). When Raghu runs away from the wedding, leaving her stranded at the mandap, her first reaction is to ask for a cold drink. When Tara's uncle almost beats up Raghu when he sees him at another wedding, Tara comes to Raghu's rescue, and orders to bring a cold drink for her uncle. At some other instance, Tara and Raghu meet at a restaurant, and Raghu asks the waiter to bring a cold drink for Tara. He says to her if there is any specific drink that she would prefer. She replies that all thandas are the same. It is, later, that Tara reveals the reason of her drinking cold drink all the time when she and Gayatri get to talk inside the bus. She tells her that whenever she is confused, and does not know how to react, she orders a cold drink. It brings a certain comfort to her. And, we also see that if Tara keeps having a cold drink, Gayatri keeps smoking a cigarette. Each character in the film has been given some quirks. 
The most remarkable thing about Shuddh Desi Romance is its views on marriage. The film questions the concept of marriage itself. Marriage has been portrayed as the ultimate goal of a romantic relationship in films. Early in the film, Raghu questions this by asking if marriage is like a glucose drip that can cure all problems of life. The society does not easily recognize a relationship in which two people are happy living together and do not feel the need to get married. Raghu and Gayatri are not just suited for marriage. The film has many weddings, and unsurprisingly, we don't see any of the wedding ceremonies, actually, getting completed. Initially, Raghu runs away from his wedding. Then, Gayatri runs from her wedding. And then, they both run away from their wedding. Even a side character, such as Tara's friend, in whose wedding Gayatri and Raghu meet again, also runs away with her electrician boyfriend before the wedding is completed. In a hilarious scene, Panditji, who is picked-up by Raghu and Gayatri, sits behind in the car and does not say a word. He is of no use to the film's characters. Traditional marriage takes a backseat. While sitting in the car, Raghu asks for blessings from Gayatri (not from Panditji). At some other point in the film, Goyal Saab wonders if marriages will stop happening in the future and if his business of wedding planning will go bust. 
Raghu and Gayatri work as fake wedding guests, again, pointing to the film's belief that marriage is fake and is nothing more than a monetary transaction. Raghu, actually, says that it is the fake wedding guests who can easily spot the pretense of marriage and its rituals, hence, he is not suited for this façade. In addition, it is a human psychology that if one is tied to something, he wants to break free. As long as one has no restrictions, a person is free to do anything, but as soon as he is told that he cannot do something, it becomes enticing to break away and do the same thing he is told to avoid. Marriage is like that kind of a restriction. An open door makes one go in and out as per his choice, but a closed door can only be opened. Raghu and Gayatri are happy to have an open-door policy, and their story ends with them living together with an open door, not bound by the restrictions of marriage. Earlier, when Raghu moves in with her, he shares the work responsibilities of the house with Gayatri. He cooks, puts clothes to dry, and does household work as well. They both are considered a sort of equal in their live-in relationship, quite a contrast with the traditional portrayal of a husband-wife in a marital relationship. Shuddh Desi Romance is, thus, a significant film that tries to subvert the conventional concept of marriage; it is almost revolutionary in its portrayal. 
The film portrays all the three characters in the film as people who are free to do whatever they feel like. None of the three central characters have any visible filial relationships. Parents are absent or are dead. Gayatri's father does not turn up for her daughter's wedding. Gayatri stays all alone and not with her widowed father in Guwahati. She has had many boyfriends, and also had an abortion in the past. She frequently smokes in a society where women who smoke are judged (most recent example being Mahira Khan). All these acts are showed not as a sign of any rebellion, but as something that a normal girl will like to do. She is not shy to have sex. In fact, the opening stretch of the film, Raghu acknowledges that women also have armaan (desires). Tara, too, has a certain freedom. She is an orphan raised by her relatives. After Raghu leaves her, she does not start crying or become depressed. She comes to Jaipur and pretends that she is an air hostess as she always wanted to live her childhood dream of flying. She is more upfront than Raghu when she tells him that he does not need to flirt with her using his eloquent falsehoods. If he wants to kiss her, he can say directly. She also has sex with Raghu. In the end, she achieves her dream of flying and experiences true freedom when she lets go of Raghu. She is also free. At some points, we see that Raghu is in a dilemma of doing what the heart says, and doing what is (ethically) right. But this dilemma never was a serious problem for him. He always went on to do whatever his heart said, without thinking the impact that his actions will have on others. At some stage, Gayatri tells Tara that she did not intend to hurt her; she adds that she did not even think of Tara, again highlighting that they only think about their own self. In some ways, the film celebrates this individualism and encourages one to follow his/her heart in relationships.
My favorite bits were the monologues in which the three of them talked to the audience, being completely honest about their thoughts and feelings. They reminded me of Kal Ho Naa Ho. There is another beautiful scene where Tara says that it might be difficult to remember the moment one fell in love with but the exact moment when someone falls out of love is always remembered. And, I absolutely love Gulabi. It is splendidly shot. Everything in the song is pink, the song is also shot in the pink city of Jaipur. Red is the usual color of love. It is another interesting subversion where pink, a lighter version of red, becomes the color of love, much like the love between the film's characters. There are many other nuances that scriptwriter Jaideep Sahni brings in the film with his understanding of contemporary India. There is a blink-and-miss scene in the film where a billboard of the film Naya Kadam (A New Step) is being carried by a few people in the streets of Jaipur. I guess that film does not contribute anything to the context of this film, but Shuddh Desi Romance is truly a new step for Hindi cinema in more ways than one.
 References:
Naya Kadam
Self-reference Chak De! India
 Books In Movies:
Sacchi Adayein 
Hindi Pulp Books
1. Pehle Pyaar Ki Pehli E-mail
2. Risky Ishq
3. Ati Random Love Stories
4. Sex Ki Shayari
5. Dhuandhar SMS
6. Kashmakash


Dialogue of the Day:
"Doubt ghadi dekh kar thori aata hai."
—Raghu, Shuddh Desi Romance

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Padmavati―First Look

In Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Guzaarish, the character of Sofia was clearly inspired by Frida Kahlo, the famous Mexican painter. Frida Kahlo’s portraits, mainly autobiographical, explored themes of identity, gender, and race. Her artwork is celebrated because of its "uncompromising depiction of the female experience and form." Kahlo’s famous unibrow was also a form of resistance and symbolized many things―courage, boldness, honesty. She refused to compromise and change in spite of all the ridicule she got. It seems Sanjay Leela Bhansali is again taking inspiration from Frida Kahlo for Padmavati. Queen Padmavati’s unibrow should be seen in this aspect. Like Kahlo’s, Padmavati’s unibrow also represents resistance and opposition. Padmavati would rather commit suicide and kill herself than surrender to Khilji.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Lipstick Under My Burkha—Dreams of Desire

Alankrita Shrivastava's Lipstick Under My Burkha is about four women at different stages of their life—Rehana (Plabita Borthakur), a college student who loves to sing; Leela (Aahana Kumra), a beautician who harbors the dream of having her own business; Shireen (Konkona Sensharma), a mother of three children who works as a saleswoman; and Usha (Ratna Pathak Shah), everyone's Bua Ji, a widow who owns a building where a number of tenants stay. The fifth character in the film is Rosy from the book that Bua Ji is reading—Lipstick Vale Sapne. She does not have a physical presence in the film but her story connects the story of the other women. The four women relate with Rosy's story at different points. They are Rosy in some way or the other. These women live with their lipstick vale sapne in a building called Hawai Manzil, appropriately named, as the fulfillment of their dreams seems difficult. There is a lovely scene in the film when Leela tells Shireen, "Pata hai, Di, hamari galti kya hai. Hum sapne bahut dekhte hain." Their fault is that they dream too much. As women, they have to keep their desires under the veil of burkha. Hence, the title Lipstick Under My Burkha. Lipstick becomes a symbol for expressing their desires that have to be kept hidden. Lipstick Vale Sapne Under My Burkha
In Anshai Lal's Phillauri, there is a scene when Shashi (Anushka Sharma) finds out that she is pregnant and her friend Amrit (Nidhi Bisht) asks her, "Sharam nahi aayi." Shashi initially nods yes, but then says no and starts smiling. It is a heartwarming scene that a woman in the early 1900s has no qualms in admitting that she had premarital sex. It is this sharam (shame) that the women in Lipstick Under My Burkha are constantly reminded of. Rehana is asked to not dance in a family function because of this sharam. Rahim asks his wife if she was shameless enough to purchase a condom from the chemist shop. Leela's mother calls her shameless after she finds him having sex with Arshad. Bua Ji's nephews tell her that she should be ashamed after they find out about Jaspal. Sharam, as is often said in our films and in our society, is a woman's jewel. But it is also said, "Jisne ki sharam uske phoote karam." These four women try to fight this patriarchal sharam to live the life they want to, with their limited means. 
The film also shows us different contrasts in the lives of these women. There is Rehana who stitches burkhas for other women, but in her college, she protests against the ban on women wearing jeans. As a mark of protest, she tears her jeans. There is Shireen who is the best saleswoman in her company, and can sell the most ridiculous of magical products but can't weave some abracadabra to sell the idea of her as a working woman to her own husband. There is Leela who is stuck between two men—one who can give her the security of a home without her ever needing to step out, and, the other with whom she has the chance to travel far but no security. There is Usha who has to pretend to follow the path of Swami Ji but what, rather, who she really wants to do is her swimming coach. She is the owner of a hundred-year-old dilapidated building and takes her first trip to a newly constructed mall to buy a swimming costume.
There is a point in the film when Shireen plans to tell her husband that she got a microwave by being the top-performing saleswoman at her company. She bakes a cake for her husband hoping that he would allow her to work. But telling him was no piece of cake. She enters the room and sits on the bed; however, her husband does not even look at her, and is busy watching the television. She tries to speak but he asks her for the remote. She hands him the remote, and, then, he grabs her hand forcing her to give him a handjob. The remote scene is telling because Shireen's husband remote controls his wife for the fulfillment of his sexual needs whenever he wants; like switching on the television at his will, without caring that sex is an activity that requires mutual consent. He shows no concern for her pleasure. He does not even bother about the basic comfort of Shireen during sex. 
During the same above scene, Rahim is watching Keh Do Ek Baar Sajna from Prakash Jha's Mrityudand. This is a self-reference in the film as Prakash Jha is also the producer of Lipstick Under My Burkha. It is also significant as Mrityudand is also an important film that dealt with the issue of women empowerment, and did a better job of portraying it. In Mrityudand, there is a point where a building contractor Vinay (Ayub Khan) tells his wife Ketaki (Madhuri Dixit) that she should not try to become his husband. She had refused to sleep with him after he physically abuses her. He taunts her that she has to respect his needs by saying, "Dekhiye Srimati Ji, apna aukat me rahiye. Hamra marad banane ki koshish mat kijiye." She should stay in her limits and not try to become his husband. Ketaki replies, "Aukaat ko taakat ka taraju me tolne ka koshish mat kijiye. Aap hamre pati hain, parmeshwar banane ka bhool mat keejiye." You can't define limits with violence. You are my husband, not God. As Rahim (who also works for a building firm, like Vinay) is watching Mrityudand, a similar scene appears in his story only. During the end, when Rahim rapes Shireen (again) after she finds about his affair, he tells her, "Biwi ho, shauhar banane ki koshish mat karo." She is his wife and she should not try to become a husband. Ketaki and Shireen, who are much smarter than their husbands, are told by them to remain in the limits of being a wife, and not try to become a husband. 
After Shireen feels humiliated by Rahim who does not eat the cake, she goes back to the kitchen. Silently crying, she eats the piece of cake all by herself. The scene took me to a similar one from Zoya Akhtar's Dil Dhadakne Do where Neelam (Shefali Shah) also eats cake in front of the mirror after her husband humiliates her yet again. Her philandering husband keeps mocking her eating habits. At the onset, it feels that it was a usual taunt, but only after this scene, we realize, she is compensating the love that she craves from her husband with food. The characters in Dil Dhadakne Do belong to the rich upper class but that film also portrayed some of the same issues that women have to deal with as it is depicted here. Whatever be the class, women have to fight the same prejudices. In that film, there was Aisha (Priyanka Chopra), a smart entrepreneur, who runs her own company but her mother-in-law is not happy that her daughter-in-law works instead of taking care of household duties. Aisha is on the pill, and does not want to have kids. There is Farah (Anushka Sharma), a dancer, who belongs to a conservative family, and was always told that she has to be a good housewife in life. So, she runs away to do what she wants. Shireen and Rehana from Lipstick Under My Burkha are very much like Aisha and Farah from Dil Dhadakne Do. Maybe Shireen, like Aisha, will someday come out of a loveless marriage, and Rehana, like Aisha, will rebel and run away, to do whatever she wants.
The character that got the most sympathy from me was Bua Ji. She is a widow. At some early stage, there is a scene where the electricity fuse goes off and she goes to fix it. She meets another widower. She tells him that when there is no light, our eyes get adjusted to darkness automatically. Humans get used to the darkness. The darkness that she talks about is her own life. She has got so used to living the life of everyone's bua ji that she has forgotten that she is Usha—a woman. At the swimming pool, she has to think for a few seconds when she is asked her name. She has forgotten her own name. She pretends to read a religious book of prayers, but underneath that, she secretly reads a Hindi Mills & Boon romantic novel. She craves for sex. She meets a swimming instructor, and has phone sex with him pretending to be Rosy. An aging widow indulging in such activities is ridiculed because as per the rules of the society, she cannot have any sexual thoughts. In a hilarious and a depressing contrast, the sister of the widower whom Bua Ji met tells her that she is looking for a girl for his brother. Even a young girl in her late thirties will be a good match for him. Every year, the Indian media reports the same templatized story of widows of Vrindavan celebrating Holi. As per tradition, they are not supposed to enjoy any worldly pleasures. The fact that this is news itself says a lot about the rules that the older women, especially the widows, have to live by. Having an active sex life is considered sacrilege. It is, then, heartening to see that the film treats Usha's desire with grace and dignity. There is never a cheap moment in the film, and Ratna Pathak Shah gets under the skin of the role beautifully. Though I must say, I kept thinking what if the roles were reversed. For instance, if a man in his fifties lied about his age, and did the same with a girl, as Bua Ji did to Jaspal, would the people have treated the man kindly without labeling him a creep?
Leela and Arshad have an idea of business in which they plan to go along with newly-married couples on their honeymoon to click their pictures. They want to go on a trip like the characters of Imtiaz Ali (Arshad's words, not mine), but using someone else's money. It is a bizarre and a silly idea, which can only work in a city where people are stupid and rich enough. Perhaps, that is why it makes sense for them to run away to Delhi. Shruti and Bittoo from Band Baaja Baaraat, who Leela and Arshad refer to while selling their idea, actually had much smarter ideas. I also understood the point of view of Leela's mother and will not judge her because she knows the importance of having a roof over head given her experience with Leela's father. It is kind of natural for her to be skeptical of Arshad's intentions over Manoj's who promises to buy a house for her. There is also a little bit of Delhi-6 in the film. Bittu (Sonam Kapoor) wants to be a singer (like Rehana) and plans to run away (like Leela) with a shady photographer. 
One other thing that struck me was the aspect of personal space and privacy in the film. Leela's home is essentially a single room where she and her mother stay together. When she visits the house of her fiancé Manoj, there is absolutely no sense of privacy in that place. The house is filled with so many people, all the women in one room and all the men in one room. It must be suffocating for her to even think of living a life among them. She immediately goes to Arshad's place. But he also does not have his own room. He sleeps in a room with many other people. Leela and Arshad have sex sitting uncomfortably on a toilet seat. Film critic Meenakshi Shedde recently wrote a short article on furtive sex in India talking about the lack of privacy in India. Later, Manoj finds out about Leela and Arshad when he saw their sex video on Leela's phone, again, highlighting the lack of privacy in her life. She is furious at him and asks him whose permission he took to watch the contents of her phone. Bua Ji has to go to the toilet when she is speaking to Jaspal because some children are sleeping in her room. Rehana is lucky that she has her own room but still, she has to listen to the music on her headphones and be doubly sure to not make any noise. This lack of a secure private space is deeply saddening; which is why startups like this should be encouraged more. It is also entirely befitting that the film is set in Bhopal, a town located in central India, that is at the cusp of modernity and tradition.
Lipstick Under My Burkha has interesting women characters. But the portrayal of other men and women in the film makes us empathize with these women more. Of course, there is no denying the fact that men like as shown in the film do exist in real life but there is a thought-provoking article that Romit Chowdhury wrote which puts this in a better perspective. He writes, "If it [oppression] operated only through coercion and hurt, it would perhaps have been easier to reject domination. Patriarchy succeeds because it offers love and affection as rewards for subservience. This is one of the reasons why it is so difficult to opt out of patriarchal scripts." It is, actually, quite true. The actions of some of these women range from illegal to unethical. Rehana steals expensive clothing and makeup items from a mall. Usha lies about her identity to Jaspal. Leela lies about her boyfriend to Manoj. The film does not condone these actions, and these women bear the consequences of their actions, but we are willing to forget these because the other people around them are just so insensitive. And, these women only have each other for help. There is a lovely moment in the film when Bua Ji goes to the mall, and a young girl helps her get on the escalator for the first time. When Bua Ji feels embarrassed purchasing a swimming suit, it is Shireen who helps her. When Rehana has to go to a party, it is Leela who drives her there. When all of Bua Ji's belongings are thrown by her nephews, no one comes for her help except these other three.
Additionally, the performances by everyone in the film are excellent; however, Ratna Pathak Shah and Konkona Sensharma are simply outstanding. Also, the film in a few scenes talked about safe sex practices. Shireen's doctor warned her about the effects of the i-pill. Sometimes, it is these little scenes that help educate and bring awareness to the public.
The film finds its closure in a burkha shop as if making a point that these women have to go back under the veil. There is a burkha-wearing mannequin head that falls from a table, and Rehana picks it up when the four of them are sitting together. Maybe the mannequin is Rosy. Maybe the mannequin is all of them. Rehana tells them that these stories are all lies. Usha counters her by saying that these stories might be a lie, but it is these stories only that give them the courage to dream these lipstick vale sapne. The women of Hawai Manzil will continue to dream but, like Rosy, they also have to find a way to step out of their cages to make these dreams a reality, and they have to do this on their own because the key for opening the cage lies nowhere but in their own hearts. Pinjare me band sapno ki chaabi aakhir Rosy ke dil ke andar hi thi. 

Books In Movies:
Chinta Haran Jantri
Lipstick Vale Sapne

Other Reading:
1. A One-Dimensional View of Masculinity in ‘Lipstick Under My Burkha’Link
2. Suitcase sexLink

Dialogue of the Day:
"Pata hai, Di, hamari galti kya hai. Hum sapne bahut dekhte hain."
—Leela, Lipstick Under My Burkha