Censor Board Strikes Again: Award-Winning Film 'Lipstick Under My Burkha' Denied Certification

After Oscar-nominated 'Moonlight', the Indian Censor Board has found its latest victim. This time, it's award-winning film 'Lipstick Under My Burkha', directed by Alankrita Srivastava and produced by Prakash Jha.

Three days ago reports about the gratuitous cuts made to Oscar-nominated Moonlight by the Indian Censor Board came to light, reigniting debates about dwindling artistic freedom and creative expression in the country. In Prakash Jha’s upcoming film Lipstick Under My Burkha, the Central Board for Film Certification (CBFC) has found its latest victim, the Mumbai Mirror reported.

The examining committee of the CBFC refused to certify Jha’s latest film, Lipstick Under My Burkha citing multiple reasons including abusive language and “women’s fantasies”. “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,” reads the letter from the CBFC.

The Censor Board's notice refusing certification, signed by the regional officer. It was published on an independent blog.

The Censor Board’s official notice signed by the regional officer. Credit: moifightclub, published on an independent blog.

Lipstick Under My Burkha features actors Konkona Sen Sharma, Ratna Pathak Shah, Aahana Kumra and Plait Borthakur. Set in small-town India, it chronicles the secret lives of four women trying to cull out a sense of freedom amid numerous constraints. Director Alankrita Shrivastava, who is currently at the Glasgow Film Festival for the premiere of the film on February 24 said that CBFC chief Pahlaj Nihalani had watched the film with the Revising Committee after which she was called in and informed that the committee unanimously decided to not certify the film. “It’s a feminist film with a strong female voice which challenges patriarchy. I think that’s why they don’t want to certify it. As a filmmaker, I stand by the story and will fight for it till the end,” she asserted.

The film was initially shown to the CBFC’s examining committee in January. Now, Jha and Shrivastava await a formal letter from the Revising Committee. Once they receive the notice, they intend on approaching the Film Certification Appellate Tribunal. CBFC chief Pankaj Nihalani, however, told Mumbai Mirror that it was the producer’s duty to get the official letter from the revising committee’s office, neglecting to comment further.

Understandably enraged by the CBFC’s ruling, Jha contended, “As a country we must encourage freedom of expression but the CBFC refusing to certify films that tell uncomfortable stories discourages filmmakers from pushing the envelope. Films should challenge the status quo which is what Lipstick Under My Burkha perhaps does and I believe our audience deserve to watch it.”

The film has already secured critical acclaim, winning the Oxfam Award for ‘Best Film on Gender Equality’ at the Mumbai Film Festival and the ‘Spirit of Asia Prize’ at the Tokyo International Film Festival.

Oxfam India released a statement coming out in support of the film, saying that Lipstick Under My Burkha was awarded for its “creative and effective take on marital rape, religious orthodoxy, sexuality of older women and most importantly women, taking agency over their bodies”.

“It is a film that ferociously challenges the gender based social norms and there is a need to promote and support “lady-oriented” films that break stereotypes about women and girls in India. Oxfam India is proud to have awarded Lipstick Under My Burkha and supports the makers of this progressive film,” said Oxfam India CEO Nisha Agrawal.  Yet, at the CBFC’s mercy, it remains to be seen whether or not the film will enjoy theatrical release in India.