Lipstick Under My Burkha is a 2016 Indian Hindi-language black comedy film written and directed by Alankrita Shrivastava and produced by Prakash Jha. The film stars an ensemble cast including Ratna Pathak, Konkona Sen Sharma, Aahana Kumra and Plabita Borthakur in leading roles, along with Sushant Singh, Sonal Jha, Vikrant Massey, Shashank Arora, Vaibhav Tatwawaadi and Jagat Singh Solanki in supportive roles. The movie shows the secret lives of four women who are in search of their freedom. Even after facing all the odds and obstacles in their way, they still manage to find their way to claim their desires through small acts of courage.
The first trailer was released on 14 October 2016. The movie, however, had issues with being released in India. It was initially banned because it was “lady oriented” and had bold female characters that expressed their right to freedom in different ways. The film premiered at the Tokyo and Mumbai Film Festivals, where it won the Spirit of Asia Prize and the Oxfam Award for Best Film on Gender Equality. The film received two nominations at the 63rd Filmfare Awards, including Best Film (Critics) and Best Supporting Actress for Ratna Pathak.
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Rosy is introduced as the heroine of an erotic pulp fiction novel titled Lipstick Dreams. Throughout the film, her story is narrated by a 55-year-old widow, Usha Parmar (Ratna Pathak), as she reads the novel in secrecy. In a small neighborhood in Bhopal, Usha serves as the old matriarch and has gotten used to being addressed as “Buaji” (Aunty); she has all but forgotten her own name and routinely gazes at a self-portrait from her youth.
Rehana Abidi (Plabita Borthakur), a fresher in college, lives in the same neighborhood and sews burkhas for her family’s store. She steals make-up to wear at college where she takes off the burkha, which she is forced to wear by her family and transforms into a jeans-wearing singer who loves Miley Cyrus.
Leela (Aahana Kumra), a young beautician who runs her own parlor in the neighborhood. Leela wishes to travel the world with her secret lover, Arshad (Vikrant Massey), who runs a small photo studio. She frequently arranges meetings with professional destination wedding businesses and offers her make-up services and Arshad’s photography, in hopes of free world-wide travel for both of them.
Also residing in the same neighborhood is Shireen Aslam (Konkona Sen Sharma), a burkha-wearing house-wife. Shireen is a mother to three boys and secretly works as a door-to-door sales-girl. Her husband Rahim (Sushant Singh) is sexually dominating and forbids the use of contraceptives, due to which she gets multiple secret abortions and repeatedly takes emergency contraceptives to prevent more pregnancies. Rahim maintains a cold attitude towards Shireen and uses her only to please his sexual urges, while she yearns for his affection.
Rehana decides to audition for her college’s band and catches the attention of Dhruv (Shashank Arora), the band’s drummer, only to be snubbed by popular girl Namrata. She participates in the ongoing protest against the ban on jeans and openly expresses her opinion on the oppression of women. Later, Rehana is pleasantly surprised when Namrata invites her to a weekend house party. To prepare the event, Rehana steals a dress and boots from the mall. Usha arranges for Leela’s marriage with a man named Manoj (Vaibhav Tatwawaadi), at the request of Leela’s impoverished mother (Sonal Jha). On the day of her engagement, during a power outage, Leela has sex with Arshad and films it on her cellphone. Her mother catches her in the act and scolds her for tarnishing their reputation but manages to cover up the situation. It is revealed that Leela’s mother makes her living as a nude model for art students. Usha takes the children of her relatives for their swimming lessons, where she is pranked by one of them and almost drowns in the pool. She is rescued by the swimming instructor Jaspal (Jagat Singh Solanki), who calls her by her real name and suggests that she take swimming lessons. Usha begins to fantasize about Jaspal and buys a swimsuit to begin taking lessons from him. She eventually engages in phone sex with him, under the alias of “Rosy”, while he is under the impression that Rosy is Komal, a young girl who takes lessons from him. Shireen is told by her doctor that she has an infection in her uterus and that she should only use condoms as a contraceptive. She discreetly buys them in chocolate-flavor from the pharmacy, but her husband Rahim refuses to use them while they are having sex.
At Shireen’s workplace, her colleague urges her to tell Rahim about her job so that she can secure a promotion and work full-time in an office. Meanwhile, Rehana attends the house party and while she is drunk, she becomes affectionate with Dhruv. She also discovers that Namrata is pregnant. Leela arrives late to a business meeting scheduled with Arshad, who is angered that she is distracted by Manoj and becomes upset with her. She still plans on eloping with Arshad after she realizes that Manoj wishes to keep her as a mundane housewife. Rehana is arrested alongside other college students as she participates in another protest against the jeans ban; however, she manages to handle the situation and receives only a warning from her strictly religious father. Leela tries to convince Arshad to elope with her but he rebukes her and simultaneously, her mother prepones her wedding to the day after Diwali. In her attempts to confront Rahim about her job, Shireen discovers that he is cheating on her with a woman whom he meets regularly at a café. She watches as he treats the woman affectionately and she follows the woman to her home, where she subtly warns her to keep a distance from Rahim and introduces herself as his wife. Usha, feeling confident in Jaspal’s positive response to their phone relationship, invites him to the community’s Diwali festival. Rehana also decides to go on a date with Dhruv at the same festival, while Namrata is shown to be recovering from an abortion.
Leela attends the festival with Manoj and successfully evokes jealousy in Arshad by kissing Manoj at his photo booth. Arshad fervently kisses Leela when Manoj leaves to get snacks and promises that he will elope with her. Despite this, she attempts to get over him and tries to have sex with Manoj inside the car, who foils her attempt by proclaiming that he wishes to wait until their wedding night. While waiting for Leela, Manoj discovers her sex tape with Arshad and accuses her of cheating, thereby breaking off their engagement.
Rehana passionately kisses Dhruv, while police search for her and find her with Namrata’s help. They reveal footage from the mall’s security cameras, proving Rehana’s theft and arrest her. Dhruv immediately distances himself from Rehana and Namrata reveals that Dhruv was responsible for her pregnancy. Rehana is bailed by her father, who tells her he is ashamed of her and forbids her from returning to college while asking her mother to start looking for prospective grooms.`
As Shireen is receiving her promotion, Rahim steps in to coldly congratulate her before he takes her home and rapes her as punishment for resisting him and approaching the woman he secretly meets. He then mocks her and tells her to quit her job and stay at home.
Usha decides to wear a sleeveless blouse and sari. She gets her armpits waxed with the help of Leela and gets her grey hair dyed black. She looks at herself in the mirror and feels young and eagerly wants to meet Jaspal. Usha spends some time with Jaspal, who eagerly searches for Komal and departs from Usha. He is bewildered when he tries to flirt with Komal and she responds by publicly shaming him. Jaspal realizes that Usha is “Rosy” when he finds her novel by the swimming pool and confronts her family members, accusing her of sexually exploiting him. They raid Usha’s room and condemn her for ruining their reputation before they throw her erotic novels and swimsuit on the street as the neighbourhood watches.
Rehana, Leela and Shireen help Usha gather her belongings from the road and Usha asks Rehana to finish reading the last few pages of Lipstick Dreams. The four ladies reflect on each of their repressions as they pass a cigarette amongst them and revel in their collective desire for freedom.
Ratna Pathak as Usha “Rosy” Buaji
Konkana Sen Sharma as Shireen Aslam
Plabita Borthakur as Rehana Abidi
Aahana Kumra as Leela
Shashank Arora as Dhruv, Rehana’s boyfriend
Sushant Singh as Rahim Aslam, Shireen’s husband
Vikrant Massey as Arshad, Leela’s boyfriend
Vaibhav Tatwawaadi as Manoj, Leela’s fiancé
Sonal Jha as Leela’s mother
Mayur More as Michael Jackson aka mj
Jagat Singh Solanki as Jaspal
Anwar Khan as Abidi
Namita Dubey as Namrata
Rajesh Tiwari as Ram
Ahmed Khan as Madanlal
Preeti Kochhar as Zeba
Garima Goel as Preeti
Disha Arora as Fatima
Jatin Jaiswal as Lakhan
Sonal Joshi as Sita
Vyoma Parihar as Lakshmi
Sahiba Vij as Chanda
Saurabh Pandey as Veer
Disha Patwa as Komal