Lipstick Under My Burkha and Gurgaon: Lockdown Blues Chasers Part 58

Here's revisiting two remarkable films in the 55th edition of our Lockdown Blues Chasers -- Lipstick Under My Burkha and Gurgaon

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Lipstick Under My Burkha and Gurgaon: Lockdown Blues Chasers Part 58
Lipstick Under My Burkha (2016): Here is a film that deserves a standing ovation for bringing out the sexual fantasies and other unspoken yearnings of four middle-class women in a non-metropolitan milieu eking each out an exciting existence from the hard brutal raw material of their inert life. But the film falls short of being genre-defining. Srivastava whose earlier and only film Turning 30 only hinted at the post-feminist explosion of Lipstick Under The Burkha, takes charge with an all-knowing confidence of  four women from different walks of life and belonging to separate generations .

Perhaps to offset the mess that they make of their lives, the line-up of women is a little too tidy and symmetrical. Usha (Ratna Pathak Shah) is 50-plus, Shireen (Konkona Sen Sharma) is 30-plus, Leela (Ahana Kumra) is in her 20s and Rehana (Plabita Borthakur), the baby of the empowering harem, is in her teens. It all adds up with a tantalising cohesiveness, leaving nothing to chance. Maths in place, I had seen the same galactic configuration of representational women in Leena Yadav’s fabulous Parched last year, except for the fact that Parched though a celebration of feminism  at the grassoot level, was a visually beautiful film thanks to its desertscaped panorama which caught the women’s sexual candour in vivid colours.

Lipstick Under My Burkha revels in its deliriously designed dimensions  of dinginess. This is Bhopal at its most basic strata. The film resolutely refuses to capture the film’s beauty, focussing instead on the crowded stifling lanes and gullies where furtive sex is undertaken in community toilets and where women have to toil over sewing machines and microwaves while father, husbands, boyfriends and lovers sow their wild oats and come home in time for the cornflakes.

This film is actually about four women leading dual lives and hiding dark dirty secrets from the men in their lives. The men, of course, are blinded by the floodlights of patriarchy. They are not allowed to show in sensitivity.

To their credit the vast cast has a blast breaking one kind of gender stereotyping that such films breaks, and also dodging the trap that a film of this  nature lays down for actors who have to talk about condoms casually. Ratna Pathak Shah is expectedly outstanding as the repressed Bua who has phone-sex with her swimming instructor (Jagal Singh Solanki, excellent). She manages to make the character’s inviolabe coyness a cute cocoon awaiting metamorphosis. But the explicitness of her conversations with her sex-object (interesting reversal of traditional roles here) elicits more giggles than shock from us.

Surely, this Buaji could have done better that… errr… this. Konkona Sen Sharma has the most sympathetic and therefore, most difficult role as an oppressed Muslim wife who gets raped every night before sleep. Yawn! While the actress is habitually competent here I find Konkona relying excessively on stock expressions of wistful yearning. Sushant Singh as her insensitive husband shines in a thankless role.

And I thought this line of spousal thought went out of fashion with Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam.

The youngest rebel of the quartet Rehana (newcomer Plabita Borthakur, just about adequate) throws off her burkha, steals Britney boots from malls and parties wildly with girls from homes far more privileged than hers and romances a drugged drummer (Shashank Arora, dutifully dazed). And when her mortifying secret life is discovered by her shamed father we are supposed to feel protective towards Rehana.

Sorry, not happening.

The most unsympathetic protagonist is Leela, played with persuasive gumption by Kumra. Leela has a perfect (read: boring) fiancé (Vaibhav Tatwawdi, excellent), a mother who leads a life of shame to bring up her daughter (the mom has been posing for nude paintings for years, she tells us), and yet all Leela wants to have sex with her scummy photographer boyfriend (Vikrant Massey doing an incredible volte face from his virgin angel act in A Death In The Gunj).

What does Leela want? I can’t say. Neither can she.

A pity, Lipstick Under My Burkha couldn’t do to the post-feminist genre what Dunkirk has done to the war epic. It moves with seductive stealth through the lives of the four women but does not eventually evoke the memorable images  from the great feminist and post-feminist films of Indian cinema, including Parched. Nonetheless this is a vital and in many  ways, great film more remarkable for what  it doesn’t say about women who long for sexual salvation than what it does say, so explicitly.

Gurgaon (2016): The gleaming glittering surfaces of Gurgaon which stand between the violent hinterland of Haryana  and the capital politics of Delhi, renders itself with ironic irradiance  to the themes of entrepreneurial greed and violence in cinema. Atul Sabharwal’s Aurangzeb was an underrated attempt at understanding the strife that controls the monstrous affluence of the constantly-evolving region.

Director Shankar Raman’s Gurgaon  gets it right immediately and ineradicably. This is a land of opportunity, and opportunism. There is a sense of immediacy and doom in  the storytelling which coil themselves around the viewer from the first frame in such a persuasive  manner that we are sucked into the tale although some of what happens here is done more for effect than out of an inner conviction.

But the absence of credibility never comes in the way of the storytelling that achieves an  unconditional littoral of pounding impact even when we see the bullet coming. Gurgaon reaches into the darkest interiors of its character’s yearnings and is not afraid to come up with unsavoury home-truths.

Pankaj Tripathy, playing a Brando-esque business tycoon whose legitimate professional activities barely conceals his inner world of simmering  murkiness, sets the pace for other actors to follow.

Tripathy who has so far played only economically challenged desperados with a touch of humour and irony, plunges into his first truly dark role (from the Dhoti to the Dressing Gown, so to speak) with a vengeful intensity bringing to the patriarch’s part a Hamletian ambition guilt and destruction that never overwhelm  the narrative.Tripathy’s Kehri Singh is a study in unscrupulous self-advancement. He doesn’t hesitate to brutally kill his brother. But is  a doting fussing father to  his foreign-returned daughter Preet(played with relative effeteness by Ragini Khanna).

But it’s Akshay Oberoi playing the outcast son who steals the thunder lighting and what-not. It’s a big-bang performance, implosive and bursting at the seams with unspoken bitterness. Oberoi plays the truant son (a cliché in the crime genre) with much empathy and little compassion. In one sequence, we see him brutally violate a prostitute in a bath tub. We know what levels  of violence Nikki is cabable of.

Nikki doesn’t disappoint.

While Tripathy and Oberoi tower above the rest of the cast in the skyscraping crime drama,  there is no dearth of engrossing performances throughout  the simmering stunning span  of the tense storytelling. In fact one of this remarkably tactile thriller’s USPs is its progressive tumble  of interesting characters. About 35-40 minutes into the film we meet a young mild-mannered South Indian  rock musician Anand Murthy (Srinivas Sunderrajan).

We don’t know at that point of  time how intimately Anand will get connected to the awful crimes that mankind often commits against his own  blood. A little later we meet a small-time hired killer Jonty (played with brilliant brio by Yogi Singha). Jonty joins the jamboree of violence like a stranger thumbing a ride to Hell. Midway in the heaving overtures to create an organic heft in the narrative, a close relative of the family Bhupi (played with grit and  rigour by Aamir Bashmir) shows up in what is known among commercial filmmakers as  ‘interval-point dhamaka.’

Do your business and come back quickly.

Where do these desperate specimens of crime-committing renegades come from?  Gurgaon trails the bloodied path with diligent persuasiveness. It doesn’t flinch from uncomfortable family secrets. And when these secrets tumble out in an unstoppered flow,  the narrative sighs in deep languor while the characters make a mess that they can never hope to clean up.

Till the very end of this violent saga of internecine devastation, we are given clues and glimpses into minds and hearts that are governed by greed and felled by opportunism. The editing (Shan Mohamed) gives the narrative the appearance of a wound-up clenched crisis.
The cinematographer Vivek Shah captures the city of ambition, greed and destruction with a flamboyance that secretes a deep hurt and wound.

These are characters born to doom. God bless them.

Image Source: Instagram/mayurkadi/onlyindian22, youtube/jarmusic/prakashjhaproductions, imdb