Popular culture is controlled by men: Alankrita Shrivastava

Debarati Palit
Friday, 7 July 2017

Director Alankrita Shrivastava talks about her battle with the Censor Board, how society propagates the male point-of-view and the need for audience to support films with good content

Alankrita Shrivastava’s directorial Lipstick Under My Burkha has started a debate on ‘freedom of women’ in our society. The film, which has been appreciated at several international film festivals, was denied certification by the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) which stated that the “women in the film are shown in bad light, particularly targeting women of certain community which might hurt sentiments.”

The film’s producer Prakash Jha and Alankrita had filed an appeal with the Film Certification Appellate Tribunal (FCAT), which directed the Censor Board to pass the film with ‘A’ certification. Lipstick... is now releasing on July 21.

Ekta Kapoor has come in as the presenter and distributor of the film, which has Ratna Pathak Shah, Konkana Sen Sharma, Aahana Kumra and Plabita Borthakur in pivotal roles along with Sushant Singh, Vikrant Massey, Shashank Arora, Vaibbhav Tatwawdi and Jagat Singh Solanki as supporting actors.

The film follows four feisty women, from Bhopal, secretly chasing their dreams and rebelling in small ways against the conventional identities they are boxed in. Through the double lives of these women, the film explores the many shades of female desire. Alankrita, who has been working as an assistant director and executive producer in Prakash Jha’s films, says that the four characters emerged in her mind owing to the fact that women are not completely free. “Something keeps holding us back. I am privileged to be born in a family where I could follow my path but there are so many who can’t,” she says.

She adds, “Women are not comfortable in a patriarchal society. They are not truly happy in the roles which they have been given by society; they just try to play those parts.”

The film will see veteran actress Ratna Pathak Shah in a role that she has never played before. Ask Alankrita if it was difficult to get her on board and the director replies, “Actually it was quite easy getting Ratna and Konkana on board because they liked the script. It was quite simple because not too many good parts are written for actors like them. So whenever they get a chance, they jump into the project.”

As the conversation moves towards their long battle with Pahlaj Nihalani and the Censor Board, Alankrita says that it’s a wake-up call. “Women are not free to express our thoughts as everybody else. The freedom that’s been guaranteed to us by the Constitution of India cannot be taken for granted and we have to fight for it,” says she, adding that the Censor Board’s refusal to certify the film only proves that we have a long way to go in terms of censorship and democracy.

Alankrita says that their outright refusal to certify the film was ‘disappointing’. “In this country, it’s difficult being a woman. There are different standards for men and women. The popular culture is controlled by men,” she says. Sharing her anguish further about society and the Censor Board, she says, “We are ‘okay’ with songs with double meaning and present a story from the male gaze perspective with the camera focusing on the woman’s body. It’s so stereotypical but that’s how we are conditioned.”

But society alone cannot be blamed for it, filmmakers too have been objectifying women in films. “I agree and that’s why studios also need to be sensitive towards women. Directors, writers, producers, cinematographers have to be careful about how they use the camera,” she says.  

In a society like India where women are not supposed to speak up about their sexuality and sexual desires, wasn’t it obvious that the CBFC would have a problem with the content of the film? “Everything is about fulfilling the male desire but what about a woman’s desire? Is she really happy? It’s not just about sexual desires, it’s all types of desires. Women have to take responsibility of the family and also earn money,” she reasons.

Alankrita, whose debut film was Turning 30!, added that we need to create space for a healthy popular culture for women by women. “That can only happen in the form of art, films, songs, literature. At least then all types of viewpoints/content will be available,” she adds.

Alankrita believes that more and more audience wants to watch better content films and the industry needs to create such content. “Otherwise everything will be excused in the name of commerce. Exhibitors and distributors will push for commercial films but the audience has to step forward and support independent content,” she says.

The controversy surrounding the film has definitely helped it gain attention but Alankrita maintains that more than the attention, the conversation that’s happening in mainstream media is important. “They are talking about female gaze, portrayal of women on screen and these are all relevant conversations which need to happen to achieve some kind of evolution in society,” she says before signing off.

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