Alankrita Shrivastava's Lipstick Under my Burkha was awarded the Best Film on Gender Equality at the 2016 Mumbai Film Festival, but the film has been banned from being released theatrically in India.
The film depicts the lives of four Indian women, ranging in age from early-20s to mid-50s. Each of the women are seen dealing with different pressures, including college, relationships, gender roles and societal expectations.
Two of the women are Muslim and wear the titular head-to-toe garment, and the other two women are Hindu, and do not wear a veil. All of them, however, wear lipstick - even when no one can see or appreciate it.
In a recent judgement, the Central Board for Film Certification (CBFC) in India decided that these poignant and important female-centric stories were inappropriate, and concluded that the film ought not be certified. The reason? The film is "lady-orientated" and contains "contentious sexual scenes, abusive words [and] audio pornography."
If a film does not receive CBFC certification, it is banned from being shown in any cinema in India. This means that film festivals will generally be unable to screen it, and it cannot be submitted for most cinematic awards.
The censorship of the film has prompted outrage from Indian film fans.
The director of the New York Indian Film Festival, Aseem Chhabra, recently announced that he'll be including Lipstick Under my Burkha in the upcoming NYIFF, saying "The Board has always been very regressive. For the longest time kissing was not allowed. It's always been a reflection of the current political party that's in power in India. So, heterosexual sex, men looking at women in bikinis, men making sexual jokes about women and the male gaze is okay, but "lady orientated", whatever that means, is not."
"Heterosexual sex, men looking at women in bikinis, men making sexual jokes about women and the male gaze is okay, but "lady orientated", whatever that means, is not."
There has been other instances in the past of the CBFC overstepping its role by completely censoring films, rather than certifying them for appropriate age groups. Indian press has previously referred to the board as "draconian", and after their censorship of Lipstick Under my Burkha, many Indians are now questioning the modern relevance of the group. Their certification process is now reportedly under review.
Director Shrivastava has spoken out about the censorship of her film - as well as written a moving article for The Guardian - as she wants a theatrical release for the film rather than a digital one. She has told press, "I don't have a Plan B. I'm very determined to fight it out and see a theatrical release. When you make a choice that you will not exhibit commercially, it's one thing. But when you're being forced to do a digital release because the CBFC of India is not letting you release your film, it's a completely different situation."
"I don't have a Plan B. I'm very determined to fight it out and see a theatrical release."
Shrivastava has filed an appeal with the Film Certification Appellate Tribunal in order to get a reversal of the decision, the hearing for which will happen later this month.
The film will, however, screen at the Indian Film Festival in Los Angeles in April, and the New York Indian Film Festival in May. There's no word yet on an Australian screening.