CBFC Doesn’t Know How to View Films: Alankrita Shrivastava

The director of the film Lipstick Under My Burkha tells us about the controversy with the CBFC

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“The story is lady oriended, their fantasy above life. “There are contanious sexual scenes, abusive words, audio pornography and a bit sensitive touch about one particular section of society.”

This is what the Censor Board of Film Certification said when they refused to certify Lipstick Under My Burkha, Alankrita Shrivastava’s alternative film. Bayside Journal caught up with the director, who’s currently in the UK, for a quick chat. Excerpts from an interview:

Can you give us your interpretation of the CBFC statement? 

The letter came after the first screening, and I also had a second screening for them. By the end of it, Mr. Pahlaj Nihalani told me categorically that it is a unanimous decision that, “We will not be certifying your film”. So my overall reaction is that their decision makes no sense and I feel that this decision reflects a very patriarchal mindset of the CBFC. I think they don’t know how to view films, they don’t know in what context to watch a film.

I feel they are ill-equipped to understand anything about gaze and perspective, which is why they can make statements like it is female-oriented and certification should be refused. I feel that this is a very systematic way of silencing an alternative narration and it is very, very scary.

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Do you feel that Indian audiences are so immature that they won’t get Lipstick Under My Burkha?

Not at all, they are the people of India; they are all of us. I am not different from the audience. Are we going back to the time of colonisation where the British felt that Indians need to be ruled over?

Did you seriously feel that Lipstick would pass through the CBFC, especially under its current leadership, or were you just hoping against hope?

No I didn’t think it would be a problem because films like Parched, Margarita With a Straw, Pink, B.A. Pass, Fire all released. Now should we start self-censoring a film and think what people will say or think? That means you are creating a very negative atmosphere for an artist in our country and there is no freedom. See, the Censor Board is anyways called the Central Board of Film Certification; they should just do their job and certify a film, honestly I don’t think they are qualified to do all this. They don’t understand things about gender politics and human rights; they needed to be educated before.

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In a country that reeks of patriarchy, how far can movies go in changing people’s mindsets?

I don’t think movies can change people’s mindsets directly, but I feel that films can start a conversation. It has already started. The very fact that CBFC felt the need to ban this film means there was something in the film that was making them uncomfortable, something that was confronting them. I feel films are great communication starters; they can start debates and discussion and it is very healthy. Films should make us think. Especially in a country like India where there is so much violence against women, where there are female foeticides and dowry. So in that kind of scenario, should we not encourage women to share their stories and express themselves?

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How has Prakash Jha supported you through all this? Do you feel more confident because you have a big banner behind you?

Prakash Jha is a very courageous producer. No one would have funded this film expect him and this film would have never been made if he wasn’t there. Of course it makes a huge difference to have a big banner supporting you. A film owned and backed by a producer like him makes me feel very fortunate. He has so much courage; I draw courage from him to keep moving. He understood my vision and supported me. I wish there were more filmmakers like him in the industry.