It's been a good week for director Alankrita Shrivastava. A really good week. First, her feminist drama, Lipstick Under My Burkha was the opening night screening of the Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles last week. Next, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA), that conducts the Golden Globes, declared that showing as the qualifying screening for the Golden Globe Awards. Which means it can now go to the Globes. Later this month, Lipstick... will open the New York Indian Film Festival. And yet, even as it gathers rave reviews and awards at international film festivals, back home in India, the film's future remains uncertain.
In February this year, the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) refused to certify the film stating that it was too "lady-oriented", whatever that means. Effectively, that means the movie cannot get a theatrical release in the country, in its current form. Naturally, the film's team is contesting the CBFC's decision. Shrivastava spoke to HuffPost India about the big Golden Globe push and her team's efforts to ensure that the film sees the light of day in her home country.
What does qualifying as the Golden Globes official screening mean?
The Golden Globes are given by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA) and they've chosen Lipstick Under My Burkha as the official HFPA screening. So it is like HFPA is encouraging Lipstick... to apply and run for the Golden Globes by choosing to do an official HFPA screening of it. Through this screening, the criterion for applying for the awards is met.
A film without a censor certificate is much like a child without a birth certificate.
How do things stand, currently, with Lipstick Under My Burkha? Are you fighting the ban or working towards a compromise?
I am trying to get a censor certificate, so that the film can release in theatres. I'm fighting to legitimise the existence of my film. A film without a censor certificate is much like a child without a birth certificate. It was an unfair decision to refuse certification to Lipstick Under My Burkha. I'm currently in the process of appealing to the Film Certification Appellate Tribunal (FCAT) for the reversal of the CBFC decision. I am hopeful that something positive will emerge.
Are you hopeful that the Golden Globes news will help sway things in your favour and you'll finally get certification?
We're waiting to hear from FCAT. Would not like to say anything more.
Did you ever imagine a scenario in which the CBFC would withhold the certificate altogether?
I absolutely did not. There are so many films with themes of sexuality that have been certified — Margarita With a Straw, Parched, BA Pass, Qissa, and Fire, to name just a few. I just assumed we'll get the 'A' rating and that was fine.
What are your learnings from this strange dichotomy where while on the one hand your film is enjoying international success, on the other, you're not able to screen it in your own country?
I think this entire censor issue has made two things very clear to me. First, there is a lot of support for Lipstick Under My Burkha. That comes from the fact that people can already feel the spirit of the film. Whether they like it or not eventually, time will tell, but they believe it is a film that is worth fighting for and worth watching. This kind of support for an independent film is most encouraging. It makes me believe that I am on the right path. And I must not be deterred.
In 2017 we have an archaic system of censorship, why are we living with it?
Second, I think the film is serving the larger purpose of starting conversations and debate about the perpetuation of patriarchy through popular culture and the freedom of expression of women. As educated citizens of India, we must question why alternative points of view in cinema should be silenced. In 2017 we have an archaic system of censorship, why are we continuing to live with it?
I see the debate and questioning of the status quo as a sign that our democracy is robust and healthy and people can understand that when they are denied the right to see a "lady-oriented" film, it is an attempt to stifle women's voices. These are new conversations in India. And for a country that so deeply discriminates against women, these are crucial and important conversations.
What is the motivation behind making Lipstick Under My Burkha?
The title of the film is a metaphor. Lipstick Under My Burkha, refers to the fact that women will not stop dreaming and wanting, no matter how much they are restrained, confined or suffocated. I believe that this yearning for freedom and wanting more from life cuts across classes and binds all women together. This idea stems from my own feeling of not feeling fully free. Even though I have been brought up in a very liberal way, on the inside, I always feel like something is holding me back. I wanted to explore this idea through characters that have external restrictions on them, because ultimately, so many of our experiences are more or less the same.
No one can be allowed to de-legitimise a film for being "lady-oriented." It is wrong, unfair and unjust.
Are you at all considering alternative media to release your film?
I am, and will continue fighting for the film to have a theatrical release in India. Because the issue is much bigger than one film or choosing a mode of distribution — it is about being clear that women's voices cannot and will not be silenced. No one can be allowed to de-legitimise a film for being "lady-oriented." It is wrong, unfair and unjust. And absolutely not in keeping with the spirit of the Constitution of India. Why should we be forced to be in a situation where we cannot compete with other films for awards and theatre audiences because of no certification?
Why should Lipstick Under My Burkha be forced out of the privilege of public exhibition?
How I showcase my film has to be my choice, not something I was forced into doing. If I had the certificate, I could choose to release theatrically or directly go digital. But you always have to have a choice.
I am fighting for my film to have legitimacy. Why should Lipstick Under My Burkha be forced out of the privilege of public exhibition? We will bring the film to theatres in India.