on the actor's trail

Ratna Pathak Shah on ‘Lipstick Under My Burkha’: ‘My hope is that men take lots away from the film’

The veteran actor, a favourite of the new indie strain in Hindi, says the Censor Board only proved the point that Lipstick Under My Burkha was trying to make.

If the story of Alankrita Srivastava’s Lipstick Under My Burkha is about four women who refuse to be told what to say and what to do, the attitude of the movie’s cast and crew is no different.

Take, for instance, Ratna Pathak Shah, who plays Usha, a woman in her fifties who wants to learn to swim and unleash her repressed desires. When asked about the recent battle with the Central Board of Film Certification that almost derailed the movie, Shah said, “I wish they had drafted their letter of objection to the film with some intelligence.”

In its letter, the board had initially refused a certificate on the grounds that “the film was lady oriented, their fantasy above life”.

“The Board came out looking very, very silly,” Shah told Scroll.in. “It was a controversy that didn’t need to be made at all. But, for us, this was a good thing in a sense. This controversy really focused attention on what the film is trying to say – that we are battling patriarchy all the time, in small and big ways. And every day, this battle chips away at a woman’s sense of self. This is what the film is really talking about. All four women in the film are fighting to have a sense of self worth.”

Apart from Shah, Lipstick Under My Burkha stars Konkona Sensharma, Aahana Kumra and Plabita Borthakur. The movie will be released on July 21.

When the script came to her, Shah immediately jumped at the idea. “Alankrita just sent me a script one day and said this is the role and I’m thinking of you,” Shah said. “When I read the script, it took me less than a second to decide if I wanted to be a part of this project. It is not the kind of role that comes to an actress my age very often. It is a very well-written script and talks about something that I really find very interesting myself – the way in which women are perceived and how they perceive themselves. I wondered how people would respond to a film like this and whether we would even be allowed to get it made or show it.”

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Lipstick Under My Burkha (2017).

Usha is a special character for the actor who has done a range of interesting roles over the past several years, including in Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na (2008), Khoobsurat (2014), Kapoor and Sons (2016) and Nil Battey Sannata (2016). “For one, a woman her age wanting to learn how to swim...I thought it is such a gracious idea, I really fell for that idea,” Shah said. “She could have wanted to do anything else, for instance. Learning to drive, perhaps? But swimming has such poetry to it somehow. It also appealed to me personally. I’m very scared of water. Throughout my life, I’ve wanted to be a swimmer but never got down to it. For me, Usha and all the other characters represent the idea of overcoming fears.”

Up until the CBFC kerfuffle, Lipstick Under My Burkha was having a healthy run on the film festival circuit, picking up awards at various events and drawing good notices for the cast. “The response that we’ve got for the film across festivals has taken all of us by surprise,” Shah said. “Everywhere people have found things to connect to and men everywhere have come up and spoken about the film.”

How will Indian audiences respond to the movie? “My real hope is that men take lots away from the film,” Shah said. “Women will identify with it. They will see themselves, their aunts, their family members. Some will be somewhat shocked. Some will say yes, this is true, but do we need to talk about this? I’m expecting that both kinds of responses may come from the general public but all the same, I don’t think there will be any real opposition from women who watch the film. Whoever comes with an open mind will get a lot out of it. Men or women, young or old, doesn’t matter.”

Lipstick Under My Burkha. Image credit: Prakash Jha Productions.
Lipstick Under My Burkha. Image credit: Prakash Jha Productions.

One of the roles that made Shah a household name is Maya Sarabhai, the snobbish high society mother-in-law from the television series Sarabhai vs Sarabhai. The show was aired on Star One in 2004, and its sequel is available on the streaming app Hotstar.

Sarabhai vs Sarabhai gained a cult following during its time, but its fame began to spread only during reruns and bootleg uploads on the internet. “I think we suffered because we were on Star One,” Shah said. “Had it been on any other channel, I think we would have had a much greater impact. They didn’t do too much to promote us. Did you know the TRP while we were on air was .63 per cent? It was the repeat telecasts and the internet that helped us spread the way we did.”

Shah attributes the show’s success to the writing. “”Maya Sarabhai came to me exactly when I think I had figured out the business of acting and I was getting more and more sure of myself as an actress,” she said. “Had it come earlier on, I think I may not have been able to pull it off the way I did. Also, the fact that here was a show for television that was well written. I can’t tell you what a delight that is. You’ve got to read some of those scripts to know what I’m talking about. The rubbish that one has to plough through every day. “

For Shah to take up a project, the script and the team behind it are of greater importance than the size of the role. “For instance, the film I’m doing right now, it’s called Love Per Square Foot, and for the first time, I will be playing a Christian woman,” she said. “I just look for ideas and scripts that excite me.”

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Sarabhai vs Sarabhai Take 2.

Shah cut her teeth in parallel cinema in the 1980s, alongside forging a career in theatre. The difference between parallel filmmakers and the current lot of independent-minded directors is that the new crop is telling stories that are more honest and personal, she pointed out. “I wasn’t very much a part of the beginning days of parallel cinema, I was more of an onlooker,” she said. “So I’m only talking with that much authority about the parallel films of the past. Those films definitely brought out subjects that shook me up, subjects that had not been brought out in cinema before. They were really important to me and my development and to the general development of the cinegoing public.”

Contemporary cinema is more interesting and nuanced, according to Shah. “They are being made by directors who definitely know what they are talking about,” she said. “When Dibakar talks about Delhi, I know the man knows what he is talking about. The same way with Anurag [Kashyap]. I never felt that way about the filmmakers of my generation. They took on issues as stories and therefore, there was a certain distance between themselves and their subject matter. Here, I feel a palpable heart, a strong visceral sense of something. Of course, this is when the films are working. Not all of them do.”

There are also more female directors than before – a big change from the older days. “The numbers can improve even further, yes, but the attitude of these new female filmmakers who are confident and are saying, judge a film for what it is worth and not because it is made by a woman – now that’s beautiful,” she said.

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Kapoor & Sons (2016).
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Ten awesome TV shows to get over your post-GoT blues

With those withdrawal symptoms kicking in, all you need is a good rebound show.

Hangovers tend to have a debilitating effect on various human faculties, but a timely cure can ease that hollow feeling generally felt in the pit of the stomach. The Game of Thrones Season 7 finale has left us with that similar empty feeling, worsened by an official statement on the 16-month-long wait to witness The Great War. That indeed is a long time away from our friends Dany, Jon, Queen C and even sweet, sweet Podrick. While nothing can quite replace the frosty thrill of Game of Thrones, here’s a list of awesome shows, several having won multiple Emmy awards, that are sure to vanquish those nasty withdrawal symptoms:

1. Billions

There is no better setting for high stakes white collar crime than the Big Apple. And featuring a suited-up Paul Giamatti going head-to-head with the rich and ruthless Damien Lewis in New York, what’s not to like? Only two seasons young, this ShowTime original series promises a wolf-of-wall-street style showcase of power, corruption and untold riches. Billions is a great high-octane drama option if you want to keep the momentum going post GoT.

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2. Westworld

What do you get when the makers of the Dark Knight Trilogy and the studio behind Game of Thrones collaborate to remake a Michael Crichton classic? Westworld brings together two worlds: an imagined future and the old American West, with cowboys, gun slingers - the works. This sci-fi series manages to hold on to a dark secret by wrapping it with the excitement and adventure of the wild west. Once the plot is unwrapped, the secret reveals itself as a genius interpretation of human nature and what it means to be human. Regardless of what headspace you’re in, this Emmy-nominated series will absorb you in its expansive and futuristic world. If you don’t find all of the above compelling enough, you may want to watch Westworld simply because George RR Martin himself recommends it! Westworld will return for season 2 in the spring of 2018.

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3. Big Little Lies

It’s a distinct possibility that your first impressions of this show, whether you form those from the trailer or opening sequence, will make you think this is just another sun-kissed and glossy Californian drama. Until, the dark theme of BLL descends like an eerie mist, that is. With the serious acting chops of Reese Witherspoon and Nicole Kidman as leads, this murder mystery is one of a kind. Adapted from author Liane Moriarty’s book, this female-led show has received accolades for shattering the one-dimensional portrayal of women on TV. Despite the stellar star cast, this Emmy-nominated show wasn’t easy to make. You should watch Big Little Lies if only for Reese Witherspoon’s long struggle to get it off the ground.

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4. The Night of

The Night Of is one of the few crime dramas featuring South Asians without resorting to tired stereotypes. It’s the kind of show that will keep you in its grip with its mysterious plotline, have you rooting for its characters and leave you devastated and furious. While the narrative revolves around a murder and the mystery that surrounds it, its undertones raises questions on racial, class and courtroom politics. If you’re a fan of True Detective or Law & Order and are looking for something serious and thoughtful, look no further than this series of critical acclaim.

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5. American Horror Story

As the name suggests, AHS is a horror anthology for those who can stomach some gore and more. In its 6 seasons, the show has covered a wide range of horror settings like a murder house, freak shows, asylums etc. and the latest season is set to explore cults. Fans of Sarah Paulson and Jessica Lange are in for a treat, as are Lady Gaga’s fans. If you pride yourself on not being weak of the heart, give American Horror Story a try.

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6. Empire

At its heart, Empire is a simple show about a family business. It just so happens that this family business is a bit different from the sort you are probably accustomed to, because this business entails running a record label, managing artistes and when push comes to shove, dealing with rivals in a permanent sort of manner. Empire treads some unique ground as a fairly violent show that also happens to be a musical. Lead actors Taraji P Henson and Terrence Howard certainly make it worth your while to visit this universe, but it’s the constantly evolving interpersonal relations and bevy of cameo appearances that’ll make you stay. If you’re a fan of hip hop, you’ll enjoy a peek into the world that makes it happen. Hey, even if you aren’t one, you might just grow fond of rap and hip hop.

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7. Modern Family

When everything else fails, it’s comforting to know that the family will always be there to lift your spirits and keep you chuckling. And by the family we mean the Dunphys, Pritchetts and Tuckers, obviously. Modern Family portrays the hues of familial bonds with an honesty that most family shows would gloss over. Eight seasons in, the show’s characters like Gloria and Phil Dunphy have taken on legendary proportions in their fans’ minds as they navigate their relationships with relentless bumbling humour. If you’re tired of irritating one-liners or shows that try too hard, a Modern Family marathon is in order. This multiple-Emmy-winning sitcom is worth revisiting, especially since the brand new season 9 premiers on 28th September 2017.

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8. The Deuce

Headlined by James Franco and Maggi Gyllenhaal, The Deuce is not just about the dazzle of the 1970s, with the hippest New York crowd dancing to disco in gloriously flamboyant outfits. What it IS about is the city’s nooks and crannies that contain its underbelly thriving on a drug epidemic. The series portrays the harsh reality of New York city in the 70s following the legalisation of the porn industry intertwined with the turbulence caused by mob violence. You’ll be hooked if you are a fan of The Wire and American Hustle, but keep in mind it’s grimmer and grittier. The Deuce offers a turbulent ride which will leave you wanting more.

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9. Dexter

In case you’re feeling vengeful, you can always get the spite out of your system vicariously by watching Dexter, our favourite serial killer. This vigilante killer doesn’t hide behind a mask or a costume, but sneaks around like a criminal, targeting the bad guys that have slipped through the justice system. From its premier in 2006 to its series finale in 2013, the Emmy-nominated Michael C Hall, as Dexter, has kept fans in awe of the scientific precision in which he conducts his kills. For those who haven’t seen the show, the opening credits give an accurate glimpse of how captivating the next 45 minutes will be. If it’s been a while since you watched in awe as the opening credits rolled, maybe you should revisit the world’s most loved psychopath for nostalgia’s sake.

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10. Rome

If you’re still craving an epic drama with extensive settings and a grandiose plot and sub-plots, Rome, co-produced by HBO and BBC, is where your search stops. Rome is a historical drama that takes you through an overwhelming journey of Ancient Rome’s transition from a republic to an empire. And when it comes to tastes, this series provides the similar full-bodied flavour that you’ve grown to love about Game of Thrones. There’s a lot to take away for those who grew up quoting Julius Caesar, and for those looking for a realistic depiction of the legendary gladiators. If you’re a history buff, give this Emmy-winning show a try.

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For your next obsession, Hotstar Premium has you covered with its wide collection of the most watched shows in the world. Apart from the ones we’ve recommended, Indian viewers can now easily watch other universally loved shows such as Silicon Valley and Prison Break, and movies including all titles from the Marvel and Disney universe. So take control of your life again post the Game of Thrones gloom and sign up for the Hotstar Premium membership here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Hotstar and not by the Scroll editorial team.