Heaps of praise has showered on the women of Lipstick Under My Burkha. Alankrita Shrivastava’s second film has been touring the international film festival circuit, picking up awards before it will be released in India inn early 2017. The film is produced by Prakash Jha.

Lipstick Under My Burkha won The Spirit of Asia award at the Tokyo International Film Festival and the Oxfam Award for Best Film on Gender Equality at the Mumbai International Film Festival in October. It will be travelling to the Stockholm International Film Festival (9-20 November) and the Cairo International Film Festival (15-24 November).

Shrivastava’s debut film Turning 30!!! (2011) went unnoticed. She attended screenwriting workshops in Venice and Goa before embarking on her next project. Lipstick Under My Burkha is the story of four women who are trying to break away from social restrictions. Konkona Sensharma, Ratna Pathak Shah, Aahana Kumra and Plabita Borthakur play the repressed characters.

Without preaching about women’s empowerment, Shrivastava’s seriocomic film peeks under the conservative garment to also tell bold stories about sexual desire. “The burkha hides a lot but is also privy to many secrets,” Shrivastava told Scroll.in.

The title ‘Lipstick Under My Burkha’ sounds like an act of defiance. How did it come about?
The title came to me when I thought of the idea – though I must admit that for a while I had changed the title to Lipstick Waale Sapne while I was shooting the film. I went back to the original title when I completed the film. The title came from my own struggles as a person who is not completely free, like something that has always been holding me back. I cannot truly express my desires. I wanted to explore this theme through characters that actually have external constraints, unlike me. I have never had anyone dictate anything to me. I guess those desires of mine were veiled, and that’s how the title took shape.

‘Lipstick Under My Burkha’.

Why did you decide to have a multi-narrative plot?
Except for Konkona Sensharma’s character, which is drawn from a real-life inference, all the other characters are imagined. After I had the initial idea, I began developing it by looking at the world around me. I wrote the original story and screenplay and then a friend helped me with additional screenplay. Gazal Dhaliwal wrote the dialogue.

I feel that what my maid is going through is not very different from what my mother is going through, and what I am going through is similar to what the maid’s daughter is going through. There is a sameness to us that binds us, and that is something all the characters in the film share at some level. All the women in the film are extensions of me. This film is about the lack of otherness and the universal resonance it has with women across the world coming from different classes and communities.

Was it easy assembling the ensemble cast?
Ratna Pathak Shah and Konkona Sen Sharma were my first choices. They read the script and agreed immediately. The fantastic casting directors, Shruti Mahajan and Parag Mehta, assembled the rest of the cast, finding the other two women and the wonderful supporting cast of men.

There is a five-year gap between your debut film ‘Turning 30!!!’ and ‘Lipstick Under My Burkha.’
Yes, I was trying to make an entirely different film during this period. I spent a year doing nothing after my first film. I was exhausted. I shot Turning 30!!! while I was assisting on Raajneeti. I was totally brain dead. I worked on a documentary on the cultural history of Bihar, where I come from. It rejuvenated me. Then I began to write a legal drama and it was so complex that I couldn’t finalise the script. In 2013, I turned to Lipstick Under My Burkha.

Konkona Sensharma in ‘Lipstick Under My Burkha’ .

‘Lipstick Under My Burkha’ has an unusual climax. Was that intended?
I don’t know whether I should reveal that secret or not. Let’s just say that the film changed quite dramatically through the Work-In-Progress lab that I attended at the Film Bazaar in Goa in 2015, where I took the rough cut of the film for editing feedback.

Do you foresee problems with the Central Board of Film Certification over the nudity and language in your film?
Parched was passed without any major cuts, so I am hoping it will be the same for my film. Nowadays many films with such content are being passed, like Pink. I think we have to grow up, it’s really okay. It is an adult film and we are not looking for a UA certificate.

What are you working on next?
I will be returning to my courtroom drama project. It will be an expensive film, so again the cycle of writing, looking for finance, assembling a cast, all begins soon once Lipstick Under My Burkha is released, hopefully after January 2017.

Alankrita Shrivastava.