Ironically but unsurprisingly, the film Lipstick Under My Burkha has been banned for the very phenomenon it was made to throw light on - that is, the suppression of women's sexuality. At a film festival that is to be held at the Prince of Wales Museum or Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya (Fort, Mumbai), the film was part of the line-up but was dropped a fortnight before the festival because of its "sexually explicit content."
In October 2017, screenwriter Anuraadha Tewari was invited to curate a three-day film festival to be held later this month, as part of their larger exhibition, 'India and the World: In 9 Stories,' and her picks, in that regard, were - Newton, A Death in the Gunj, Mukti Bhavan, Lagaan, Ajji, Bareily ki Barfi, Lipstick Under My Burkha.
Alankrita Shrivastava's award-winning film explores themes of slut-shaming, repression, ageism and repeated custodial assault in the lives of four Indian women in the city of Bhopal, and thus, understandably made it to the shortlist. Huffington Post writes that these films were chosen as she felt they "represented the changing times in India."
While this was frozen upon on December 12, less than a fortnight before the festival was to begin, Anuraadha was informed by the festival consultant Pallavi Sharma that Lipstick Under My Burkha won't make the cut, without officially state the reason. However, the Huffington Post journalist behind this reportedly saw the messages exchanged between Anuraadha and Pallavi where the former implied that she was "pressurised into dropping the film as the museum felt 'uncomfortable' with the choice as it featured some 'sexually explicit scenes.'" This message in question read, "Everyone in the museum feels strongly against it."
Sabyascahi Mukherjee, the museum director, denied this claim and stated that the only reason this film was dropped from the line-up was that it had an "adult" certification, and because their venue was open to children, it could have been hard to regulate. Anuraadha however, points out that while she was never informed of this reason, the venue of the screening is a 50-seater space and hence, can easily be monitored for the duration of that specific film. She, thus, slammed it as a "lame excuse."
"What if children entered the screening room? After all, ours is an open venue. There was an anxiety from the education department of the museum about the film and hence we made a request to get it removed," Sabyasachi Mukherjee told Huffington Post. It is noteworthy, that another film from the final shortlist, Devashish Makhija's Ajji, is also an 'adult' film due to its graphic content depicting violence, but was not quite examined with the same set of morals.
"To say that the museum was incapable of managing a festival of this scale and pulling it off would be an understatement. But that's the least of the problems. To have them generally hostile and uncooperative in many ways would still be dealt with.
But to force me to delete a film from my list as a curator after having invited the makers and gotten permission, with lame excuses, and to then mess it up with the wrong listing (after the film's exclusion, the museum sent a press release mentioning the film in its line-up) and not even apologising, is shameful, discourteous and a demeanor completely unsuitable to a curator of the arts. I am saddened, appalled and cannot fathom this lack of decency," she was quoted saying by The Huffington Post, adding that the Censor Board and authorities, in trying to mollycoddle the audience's sensibilities, curb the freedom of expression of artists and in turn, seriously limit the potential of art in communicating powerful messages.