Lipstick Under My Burkha director: CBFC's decision is an attack on women’s rights
Director Alankrita Shrivastava's film Lipstick Under My Burkha was highly lauded when it was screened at the Jio MAMI Mumbai Film Festival in 2016. However, this week, reports emerged that the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) had refused to certify Shrivastava's film on the grounds that it was "too lady-oriented". Without this certification, Lipstick Under My Burkha cannot be released in Indian theatres. "Sexual scenes, audio pornography, abusive words" and "a bit sensitive touch about one particular section of society (sic)" are the other reasons the CBFC's examining committee has offered for their decision.
See a copy of the CBFC's order here.
In the time since the news broke, there has been extensive support for Shrivastava and Lipstick Under My Burkha, and the filmmaker now intends to approach the Film Certification Appellate Tribunal (FCAT) to appeal the examining committee's decision.
Shrivastava spoke to Firstpost about the censorship row, and why the CBFC's decision is an impingement of freedom on so many counts. Her views are excerpted below:
“As a filmmaker and as a woman, I must confess I am very taken aback by the CBFC’s refusal to certify my film Lipstick Under My Burkha. But I am not disheartened or disillusioned or discouraged in the least. I have complete conviction in the intent and soul of my film. And now more than ever, I feel it is an important film.
I think the CBFC decision is telling on several accounts:
First, it reeks of a very patriarchal mindset. And it reeks of severe double standards in the way films are being viewed by the CBFC. In fact, I feel this decision is an attack on women’s rights.
Whether one likes the film or not, it is evident that the intent of the film is feminist and the film is made with a clearly female gaze. The film tells the story of the struggles of four ordinary but feisty women who want a little piece of freedom — women who are trying to negotiate some agency over their own lives.
It’s funny that a film like this, rather than being encouraged, is being clamped down upon, because the film perhaps challenges the dominant patriarchal narrative of mainstream popular culture. We are too used to the objectification of women, the peripheral parts they play, and their dependence on the male characters to save them. Even as women, we have adopted the male gaze and view culture through the eyes of men. Maybe it is time we started thinking about these things.
In a country where there is so much violence and discrimination against women, shouldn’t we as a society be reflecting upon what we can do in every sphere to transform the situation?
My politics as a woman is thus evident in my film. I believe that women should be able to tell their stories the way they see them and experience them. They need not be represented forever by the male gaze. Why should there not be an alternative point of view? Why should the objectification of women in popular culture be encouraged, but not the ownership of their lives and narratives and their desires? Why should we as women have to fight so hard to be able to tell our stories? Are we not equal to men? Are we not human beings? Are we not citizens of a free and democratic country that promises no discrimination on the basis of gender? Why don’t we have a level playing field?
So, as a woman, I refuse to be silenced. I will not shut up. I will voice my opinion. My thoughts matter. My life matters. My stories matter. My right to own my life matters. No patriarchal body can take that right away from me.
Secondly, the CBFC’s decision is an attack on the freedom of expression.
As a storyteller, as an artiste, as a filmmaker, should I not be doing my job of creating works of art that I believe in? And should I not have the freedom to hold a mirror to society through my stories? Or should I just be a 'self censoring' artiste? Which kills the whole concept of art anyway.
I believe there should be no censorship of films or books or paintings or songs in a country that calls itself free and democratic. Let there be all kinds of works of art — pieces that perpetuate the status quo, pieces that challenge it, pieces that represent the dominant narrative, and pieces that provide alternative narratives.
And let the citizens of India decide what culture they would like to consume. Censorship, thus, needs to be replaced by certification.
By refusing to certify the film, the CBFC is also impinging upon the freedom of the citizens of India to be able to choose the films they would like to see. The CBFC feels perhaps that the Indian audience does not deserve that basic choice.
I also feel that the CBFC needs to have a more educated view on cinema and culture. We are in 2017. We have access to work being created in all parts of the world. Let’s start also looking at our cinema in the context of films being made around the world. That will help the CBFC see that there are many different kinds of cinema, and narratives. Popular Indian cinema cannot be their only point of reference, because it often tends to be sexist and misogynist in nature.
Also, I would like to point out that the film that the CBFC is refusing to certify, is the same film that has won the Oxfam Award for Best Film on Gender Equality at the Mumbai Film Festival. Ironic. The film has also won the Spirit of Asia Award at the Tokyo International Film Festival. Further, it has been part of the official selection of the Stockholm Film Festival, the Cairo International Film Festival, the POFF Black Nights Tallinn Film Festival, and the Glasgow Film Festival. It travels now to the Miami International Film Festival, the Films Des Femme Festival at Creteil, Paris, the London Asian Film Festival, and several others in the next few weeks.
Obviously, this means that the CBFC is unable to view films in an educated way.
To sum up: as a filmmaker, I am determined to continue making films without fear.
As for the next step for Lipstick Under My Burkha, we will be approaching the FCAT with an appeal. I am determined that the Indian audience gets to watch the film in the theatres.”