The Censor Board has denied a censor certificate to a movie on the grounds of it being too ‘lady oriented’, writes Samarth Singhal

While the world has moved on from the Bechdel Test to F ratings, the ultra-conservative Indian censor board is having trouble dealing with movies that are women oriented. We wish we were joking but filmmaker Alankrita Shrivastava’s feminist drama, Lipstick under My Burkha, has been denied a censor certificate for being ‘lady oriented,’ (whatever that means).  The film is about the sexual escapades of four women in a small town.

The Censor Board said that, “The story is lady oriented, their fantasy above life. There are contentious sexual scenes, abusive words, audio pornography and a bit sensitive touch about one particular section of society, hence film refused under guidelines 1(a), 2(vii), 2(ix), 2(x), 2(xi), 2(xii) and 3(i).”

Pahlaj Nihalani, chairperson, CBF, refused to comment on the issue beyond saying that the decision to refuse certification was a unanimous one. The producer of the film, Prakash Jha says that the CBF refusing to certify films which narrate uncomfortable stories, “discourages filmmakers from pushing the envelope.” While Shrivastava says the reason the CBF is denying a certificate is because it is a “feminist film with a strong female voice which challenges patriarchy.”

The refusal to give a film certification based on the fact that it is “lady oriented” and has female “fantasy above life,” is as hypocritical as it is ludicrous. As if the gazillions of masala movies made each year in Bollywood like don’t push the male fantasy “above life.” All of Bollywood is built on fantasy and who cares really, as long as the stories are engaging. To cite that as a reason to deny certification reeks of prejudice as well as discomfort.

Prejudice towards women and the discomfort that it might cause Nihalani and his peers when they view women filmmakers make non-sanskari films about sexual escapades. And not surprisingly, this includes women. There were five women who watched the movie and agreed to not give it a certificate. How is that surprising in a country that thrives on patriarchy—both overt and internalised. How dare women behave like that! Even if those women are supremely talented actors like, Konkona Sensharma and Ratna Pathak Shah and the film is more about heterosexual relationships. What the censor board sees is, a film made by women, for women about sex and that’s that (Not saying that is problematic either)

Also, what is the parameter of filmmaking that the CBF is going by when Bollywood has produced gems such as Kya Kool Hai Hum, Great Grand Masti, Mastizaade or the action packed thrillers of Ajay Devgn and Salman Khan that give no voice to its women protagonist and treat them like sexual objects?

It is rather frustrating to note the systematic oppression of female narratives even today. Whether in mainstream media, films, literature or even academics, women have to try twice as hard to get their work out there. The only time they are lauded for expressing themselves is when their narrative toes the lines of societal expectations. But true creative freedom lies in being able to tell stories that are not only refreshing, but also different, in the sense that they are able to occupy the empty space of the often neglected female perspective.

Lipstick Under My Burkha, is one such story that attempts to reclaim the female gaze, sexuality, as well as coming of age. It is a movie in which women are not passive observers, or fearless devi’s on a pedestal, for a change they are just regular women, talking of desire, relationships and reclaiming their space by telling their own story. And if that makes the CBF “unanimously” uncomfortable, it is reflective of their own oppressive, regressive, sexist mentality.

 

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