An opinion – Lipstick Under My Burkha

“Did you buy it from the shop?” asked the husband angrily.

“No no, Got it at the clinic.” Shireen lied earnestly.

“Huh. I thought you have lost all shame. Madam had gone to buy vegetables but bought condom instead.” the husband mellowed.

“How can I do something like that.”

The husband, disgusted with the condom, threw it away and moved over his wife to establish his dominance once again.

For me, this 30-second scene is the essence of Lipstick Under My Burkha. It tells the story of Shireen who has birthed three kids and has aborted a few as her husband refuses to use a condom. She is a star saleswoman for her company but needs to hide her job from her misogynist husband who disapproves of working women.

Yes, I feel for Buaji, an aging widow, who indulges in sultry novels and fulfills her forbidden sexual desires by engaging in phone sex with a swimming instructor less than half her age. As a punishment for this crime, she, along with her clothes, is thrown from her house by her nephews. I sympathize towards Rehana, a college student with orthodox muslim parents, who wants to be free from the burkha, and wear jeans and lipstick. She resorts to stealing dresses, shoes, and cosmetics due to lack of funds. I also feel slightly sad for Leela, a beautician daughter of a nude drawing model mother, who wants to escape from her small city with her lover but is torn between a non-committal boyfriend and a fiancé willing to repay all her mother’s debts.

But to me, Shireen’s story speaks the loudest. I believe she has been dealt the worst hand out of all four. The optimist in me believes that Rehana can run away from her parents and have her freedom to wear and do what she likes. She knows sewing and can earn a living for herself. Leela can convince atleast one of her suitors or can find a new one. Buaji is still the rightful owner of the house she has been thrown from. Shireen, on the other hand, has three sons and an adulterer jobless husband whom she apparently still loves. She makes me want to apologize just for the fact that I was born a man. She makes me want to reach out to her, hug her, and tell her that she deserves better, that despite being a woman she can end the abusive marriage and can work and fend for her children, that she has the right to say NO.

Lipstick Under My Burkha is not for everyone. It will either make you feel sorry for the female protagonists and what they have to face in their lives every day, or it will make you uncomfortable to the extent that you may want to leave theatre midway. It will either make you believe that there are many such women living all around us, or it will make you cringe at the sight of a middle-aged woman pleasuring herself. One thing is certain though, the moment you step out of the theatre, you’ll know which camp you belong to.

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