Men Want to Imagine That Women Are Happy in Their Prescribed Roles: Alankrita Shrivastava
Director Alankrita Shrivastava was recently in Delhi for the promotions of her much-awaited and much talked about film Lipstick Under My Burkha. In an exclusive interview with Vagabomb, she discussed her battles with patriarchy and the need for women to get out there and grab their freedom. Over a cup of coffee, she talked about her experience making a film like this, one that has already won 11 awards. Excerpts from the chat:
Taking on patriarchy
"I’ve had one incident in my life where I felt like I was taking on patriarchy. I was living in Mumbai in an apartment and they decided to throw me out because I was a single woman. Or maybe they were throwing out all single people. Either way, it was a very patriarchal mindset. They put a lot of pressure on me. They stopped food and water for my place. But I was just like ‘I am not going to go’ and I think that really bothered them. They told me to get my parents, which was rubbish. I am in my 30s, I’m not going to get my parents. I had already been living there for a few years, and I think the society’s management had changed and they suddenly made this rule. I think that, for me, this was a huge run-in with something that can affect you, so close to you. And I remember everyone telling me, 'Why don’t you leave the house?' And I said, 'I can’t leave the house because if I leave, they are winning.' So I was like, 'whatever you do, I'm staying.' And that really got to them. This was a few years before the movie."
On dealing with the censor board
"With the censor board, I did feel like I had encountered a very patriarchal mindset. And I didn't know what it was they were trying to protect. But what does one do in this situation? You just have to fight it out. I think it’s important to fight it out. It was a wake-up call because I felt that women aren’t as free to express themselves as I thought they were."
"If the constitution of India is guaranteeing us this freedom and equality, and I don't fight for it, claim it, make it real and make it my own, it's just gonna be a right on paper. I just felt that it was going to set such a wrong precedent, once they’ve done this to one film, they’ll keep doing this to other films. It’s going to discourage so many filmmakers from even attempting to make a film of this nature. Because they’ll think ‘censor mein phas jayegi’ and investors won't put in money. And it’ll become this cycle. I also wondered, what is the larger context here, what does this mean? You’re saying what 50% of the population thinks is not important. And you want them to shut up. But this is 2017. You can’t tell them to shut up. It’s not going to work. It was really no longer about me and my film, it was a much larger issue. We’ve got to speak up. Who’s going to speak up otherwise? In 1947, we became free, and a couple of years later we got our constitution. But how do we keep making it real? We have to do it ourselves. No one is coming with a gift-wrapped package for me, saying 'here is your freedom,' 'here’s your equality.' No one’s doing that. It ain’t happening, I’ve got to snatch it. I’ve got to make it my own. That's the feeling I had. Suddenly I was like ‘oh my god, that’s what it is.’"
"It’s not that we can't do it. Definitely, we can. The FCAT (Film Certification Appellate Tribunal), in their judgement, they said (CBFC) were wrong. Because you can’t turn around and say a woman and her desires are not something that can't be seen on screen. It's just that feeling that you get, this freedom, we have to make it our own. It’s there if we want to make it our own. If we don’t, it’ll just fritter away."
Making sex not seem titillating on screen
"I don’t think I had to make a conscious choice, because of who I am, and how I see the world. I feel when you are very clear as a storyteller and a filmmaker, and how you’re seeing it, you have to do it consciously. I knew it would never be like that. The actors knew it would never be like that. That was not the intent of the film. It’s very much from the female point of view. There’s no nudity, not even a cleavage shot. It’s very real, but it’s not for the purpose of titillating men. And that’s why I feel it’s problematic. Because we are so used to watching sex on satin sheets, with candles... arre who has sex like that, I also want to know!"
"And this whole innuendo thing, no one is saying stop it. Do it. But let the other point of view also be there. You can’t be like 'only this is okay.' That’s a whitewashing of how our lives really are. And men want to always imagine that women are very happy in these prescribed roles. That’s not true. And when you say that’s not true about the most intimate things in one’s life, it threatens the fabric of patriarchy. Because these are not very rich women saying these things, who are already liberated and powerful. These are working-class women. They are the people you think is my bhabhiji (sister-in-law) who will not do anything but make halwa for me. You see these kinds of women having a mind of their own, an impulse for freedom, and wanting agency over their own lives. That is scary for people, I guess, because they’re like ‘oh it’s not just the cool girl who lives in Bandra or Golf Links, it’s women who are not that privileged, they do want more.'"
On shooting such a sensitive film
"I did have a proper meeting with my entire unit before we started shooting. With the light boys, the spot boys, because they were all men. And I said that 'this is a very intimate movie, about the lives of four women, and many things will happen on closed sets so you will have to do a lot of your work outside.' The other thing I had said was, 'there will be no sniggering, and I know that you all may not understand what is going on but these women are trusting me with a lot. There is a certain respect you have to give them on set.' It was a two or three-hour-long meeting, I think we had it twice. I don’t know if it made a difference, but it was on my agenda that we will have this meeting, I will explain it to them that there’s a certain decorum you have to maintain vis-a-vis respecting whatever is going on on set. And my HODs were fantastic, they made all the actors also feel very comfortable. The preparatory work also makes it a lot more comfortable. You can just come on set and focus on the scene, and deepening the performance."
On everyday women in India relating to this film
"I hope they do. But even everyday women in India, if you see it in context, I don't know the women from really small towns, where they have only a single screen. They’ll never get to see the films, it’s not going to release in single screens. The smaller towns don’t watch independent films. Even if it runs there, it’s not like they embrace it. It’s just how it works. They’re going for the big films and the stars. That is also a reality, there’s only a certain kind of audience that is watching independent cinema. I hope that changes. One can be like, ‘I really want small town women to watch the film,’ but I honestly don’t know. I'm sure it will release in the small town multiplexes, but how many women will actually step out to watch it? I feel the more educated audience will definitely watch it. I hope that more people watch it."
On fostering a conversation about sex
"I think the movie might facilitate that conversation. It’s done in a very matter of fact and a very honest way. Without making a big deal out of it, it talks about women’s bodies and their lives and all of that, so I think it should, I hope so. "
Lipstick Under My Burkha releases on 21st July, and we can't wait to see the film that promises so much.