India’s Central Board of Film Certification has refused to certify Alankrita Shrivastava’s award-winning female-empowerment drama Lipstick Under My Burkha for a theatrical release. The CBFC cited the “lady oriented” story that puts “fantasy above life” and contains “sexual scenes, abusive words, audio pornography and a bit sensitive touch about one particular section of society.” While Indian indie cinema has grown in the past few years to include gritty, thoughtful and sometimes boundary-testing works, it also sometimes runs afoul of the censors who aim to promote what guidelines call “clean and healthy entertainment” that “does not deprave the morality of the audience.”
The Mumbai Mirror reports that producer Prakash Jha has responded saying, “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.” Set in a small town, Burkha follows the secret lives of four women in search of freedom.
Burkha is due to screen at the Glasgow Film Festival tomorrow and has already won 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. The filmmakers are expected to appeal the CBFC decision. Last year, Gangaajal, a film Jha directed and which starred Priyanka Chopra, was banned by the CBFC but later prevailed on appeal.
In a statement cited by the Hindustan Times, director Shrivastava criticized the CBFC’s decision. “I believe the decision to refuse certification to our film is an assault on women’s rights. For too long the popular narrative has perpetuated patriarchy by objectifying women or minimizing their role in a narrative. So a film like Lipstick Under My Burkha, that challenges that dominant narrative is being attacked because it presents a female point of view. Do women not have the right of freedom of expression?”
Farhan Akhtar, who recently produced Shah Rukh Khan’s Raees, showed his support:
— Farhan Akhtar (@FarOutAkhtar) February 23, 2017
And here’s the film’s official tweet regarding the CBFC:
— 💄 Under My Burkha (@LipstickMovie) February 23, 2017