At this point, I don’t feel surprised, or enraged. A film denied certification by the self-appointed celluloid moral police. Because “lady-oriented” films, which express their “fantasy above life”, are an anomaly, and don’t deserve to been seen with naked (pardon my use of the ‘n’ word) eyes of virtuous men and women.
I am not about to comment on how the film- if at all it gets a release before I’m senile- will turn out. But the trailer for Lipstick Under My Burkha is unabashed and unapologetic. And refreshingly so.
One of the most striking elements of this trailer is the song that plays in the background, ‘Laili Jaan’.
Composed by Afghan pop icon Ahmad Zahir in 1977, the original Persian song was one of his few creations to have a music video.
The song was rendered with a fresh approach for a 2013 Coke Studio Pakistan episode by sisters Zeb and Haniya, of which Zeb Bangash also happens to be the music composer for Lipstick Under My Burkha.
In this song (translation here), a lover laments that his beloved Laili does not respond to his affection, and acts distant. She does not meet him, bursts into tears when he asks for a kiss, and at the end the lover can only express his wishes for her well-being.
It seems almost prophetic that the song originated in the Indian subcontinent, travelling from a country notorious for the oppression of its women, to a country where women consistently break new ground in the face of patriarchy, finally reaching a country where women only console themselves with the fact that their lot is not as bad as that of women in the first two.
What has this to do with our poor lover’s lament? Everything.
Lack of feminine expression- physical, emotional, intellectual, sexual- is a consequence of centuries of subjugation. While who “dominates” is just a source of crass humour for the privileged and upwardly-mobile urban crowd, it consumes the existence of women in all other strata of society, particularly in Tier II towns and villages.
Girls are raised to believe that any discussion about the territory north of the knees and south of the collarbone is taboo, yet a crucial aspect of their lives as married women is providing sexual satisfaction to their husbands, and producing children without the slightest delay. The perception of sex as something to be ashamed of, and hushed up, percolates their treatment of interpersonal relationships as well- eventually leading to underdeveloped personalities, loveless marriages and dysfunctional families.
And thus we have Laili Jaan, a woman raised in a conservative setup, one who cannot express herself in love, suffers soul-crushing guilt at the thought of physical intimacy outside of marriage, wasting away to the disappointment of a clueless lover.
Laili’s self-destructive course is that of millions of women across the subcontinent, and one that the protagonists in Lipstick… struggle not to take.
But in the Gangajal-addled imagination of the CBFC, “good”, “normal” Indian women do not shop for lingerie, do not sext, do not ask their husbands to put on condoms during sex. Because that, as 1980 as it sounds, emasculates men and shatters our Victorian-era morals. Because we cannot come to terms with the fact that we still carry the burden of the puritanical ethics that our virtuous, gora rulers left us with. The irony here is, the same distorted sense of morality makes us point fingers at “Western” culture for corrupting Indian minds with wicked things like sex. Our children, of course, emerge out of havan kunds borne by demi-gods.
So let us graze away any heads that come out of the burrow for fresh air, and fresh narratives. Let us harass our Lailis, quarrel with them, beat a kiss out of them, or seek another Laili for the purpose, and more.
Let us look at obscenely painted Lailis in cheap porn magazines and watch agape at disgustingly shot Lailis in C-grade films, and search them in the face of every Laili that passes us on the street.
Let us then grope the Lailis who come out to celebrate New Year, they deserve it, after all.
Because all that is natural.
Title image: cinestaan