Lipstick Under My Burkha is making a buzz for all the right reasons now that it is finally set to release on July 21. We caught up with veteran actor Ratna Pathak who plays a fifty-five-year-old in the film and is being slammed for ‘not behaving according to her age’, in the film’s trailer. Ratna opens up about acting, the current scenario for women in the Indian film industry, and how she transforms into her character with ease. Here’s an excerpt from the interview.
The trailer of Lipstick Under My Burkha, and the lipstick rebellion that followed it. It is quite impactful, but it is being categorised as a ‘bold’ film, your take?
It is a bold film, not bold in the way as is commonly understood to mean a sexy film. It is bold because it is making a point, which, so far has not been made so clearly and so sharply before. It is that women have dreams and desires; and desires are not only sexual desires, desire to do something with their life, desire to have a sense of place, a validity in your own life, a validity to take decisions in your own life, these are the kind of desires women have, sexual desires are just a small part of it! It (the film) is talking about desires in a larger perspective. From a point of view that you are imagining a life for yourself. From that point of view, Lipstick Under My Burkha is definitely bold! It is saying things that are not commonly heard, so I am hoping that it will shake up the audience and make them think. From that point of view bold is required. Unfortunately because of the censor controversy, the expectations from the film have also become like maybe it is a sexy film a ‘dirty’ film.
How does the film tackle these new found ‘sexy’, ‘dirty’, ‘women oriented’ labels?
With courage! And, with genuine interest in women, and therefore the stories are interesting, their entire journey is interesting and what they are fighting for is interesting, and the way they are going about it is interesting. So I think the film has gone to areas which have not been explored before, and that’s the USP of the film.
This story is being told by a woman filmmaker, not many films are made by women filmmakers in our industry, we don’t have an equal number of male and female filmmakers? Why do you think it is so?
There are fewer filmmakers, and there are women who’ve had great deal of difficulty while making their films at some point. And some of them would not have got to make the films they wanted to make. Now things are changing, now people with interesting scripts, regardless of their gender are being given opportunity to make films the way they want to. I am so glad that this film is an interesting film, a fun film and that it is thought provoking. I am hoping that this will get across to a varied audience not just to those who are used to watching such film. Others might get curious and come to watch the film, and stay on to find that there are ideas of emotions and thoughts here as well.
You quite easily portray a character which looks very real on-screen, from Kapoor and Sons to Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na? How?
I approached the part like I would any other, I read the script many times and I tried to imagine myself in Usha’s position, and what I would do if I was in her position. How different and similar is Usha to me? These are some of the ways by which you make connections with the roles you are doing. I have seen women of all these types, the kind of struggles they are going though in their lives. These are women and friends around me. So that way this film is written in an extremely believable and real manner, and therefore portraying that part is not difficult to do. It is when the script is not so good, and truthful – then it becomes very hard for an actor to provide truth in their behaviour. I have been extremely lucky that the films you mentioned were extremely well written. The thought and the nuances that the director brought to this film were real, and reflected life as we know it, hence it was easier for me to participate in a film like that. The script is the prime motivator in the film for me, followed with the director of course, but the script is really the backbone of any artistic venture.
In lipstick Under My Burkha, you are portraying the role of a fifty-five-year-old woman who has desires. In the trailer, we saw that you are asked ‘apni umar ka lihaaj karo’ (act according to your age). Why do you think people think that older people are only supposed to retire?
Well! Older people have been looked at, unfortunately, as people on the shelf, their stories told, they should not disappear and faint into the sunset. But that’s not true, we are living so much longer, what to do? We are going to have so many older people around us, can’t help it, they’re there! Their stories need to be told. Oldage is a very very complex and difficult time for everyone. To find your space, your self image, after a particular age it becomes harder and harder, particularly in a society that puts so much premium on youth. Our film industry is not kind to women, young or old. Look at what poor Madhuri or Deepika get to do. Now at least, there is more meat for these women. Look at Kangana Ranaut in Queen for example, or Swara in Nil Battey Sannata or Anaarkali of Aaraah, there are now parts written for people who are slightly different that the usual. So it is a good time in that sense, stories of different types will be told, and our audience are not perceived as a single block. Now we have expected that people have different tastes and these tastes need to be fulfilled. So we are at that process, it is long and slow, but at least it’s begun and I am hopeful.
You’ve been someone who has been vocal about a lot of issues in the society and the film industry. We now have many other women like that too. Do you think the audience and the industry are ready for women who speak up their mind and raise their voice?
I think the audience is ready, the industry may not be. Not all of the audience, of course, how can all go in one same direction? But definitely there is a sizable audience for films which want to talk with intelligence, that wants to raise issues, but doesn’t do it in a pedantic and preachy way! So those kind of films will be made, I am sure. With the internet opening up, and the short films – the kind of subjects they tackle and the people involved in that are all making changes quite dramatically. Not all of it will be good, but something will shake up the traditional mindset and that change has begun, and anyone who’s pretending that it’s not happening is a bit of an ostrich.
CBFC called your film too ‘lady oriented’ and a film that shows ‘women in a bad light’, how did the board come up with that?
Because we rattled their sense of how society should be organised, we rattled patriarchy, the film definitely tries to question it, and definitely wants to make a point that it is not acceptable anymore. So people who are part of the old mindset will find it difficult. Not only the censor board, but there will be people in the audience to say, ‘in saari cheezon ke baare mein bolne ki kya zaroorat hai?” (Why do you need to talk about these things in public?) But I say to them what Manto said to his audience so many years ago. He had said that, ‘I write with a white chalk on a black background because I want the blackness to show up, only then change will occur.’ So as a society we have to look at ugliness in the eye and say it is not acceptable, and as a society we need to move on from here. It is a slow process, I am not suggesting that it will happen smoothly even. But we are not going back, though it does look like we are headed straight back, but I am hoping that we will be able to fight that regressiveness.
CBFC is supposed to certify films and not ban or censor films. You’ve faced the controversy yourself, what is your view on the way the CBFC is working in India today?
CBFC is supposed to certify movies, but they have decided to take up an extra role, that of moral policing. I don’t know on what basis or legalities have they taken up that role and that’s something that needs to be analysed. But these guardians of social morality, they have a tough struggle, isn’t it? The society has changed, we have changed, and if we don’t accept it, we are the ones who’ll suffer. The society will go on in any case. We will have to pull the CBFC to modern times, and we are doing it, but this is just one layer of it. The CBFC clamps on everything, on political statements, on documentaries that are asking uncomfortable questions, any kind of film that questions the status quo, they are clamping down on everything. So if we don’t want to become a facetious society, we will have to fight them whenever we can and as often as we can. So I am glad that Alankrita has taken up this fight!
Lipstick Under My Burkha actor Ratna Pathak Shah: Hope it shakes up the audience and makes them think