A Bollywood director whose “lady oriented” film was blocked by censors has hit back at the movie establishment, saying it needs more women at the top to battle deep-rooted Indian prejudice.
“The censors have a problem with a female point of view; they’re just not comfortable with something that questions or disturbs the status quo,” said Alankrita Shrivastava, whose film has now overcome its critics and will be released in Indian cinemas on Friday.
Shrivastava said popular culture was shaped by man’s perspective, and it was therefore important to encourage more women directors, artists and storytellers.
Her movie — which profiles women who break free from tradition — stars a Muslim woman and a middle-aged widow among its unlikely heroines.
Shrivastava battled hard on social media for its release after India’s censor board refused to certify Lipstick Under My Burkha, calling the film “lady oriented”.
Shrivastava appealed the decision with the film certification tribunal, which said the film could be released with an adult certification and after minor cuts.
Relating the story of four women who want to realise their dreams, the movie has sparked a debate in India over what is permissible in movies and how women are actually portrayed.
“Our popular culture, our cinema is largely a product of the male gaze, for the male gaze,” she said. “Art and popular culture are powerful tools we can use to have a conversation about perspective and conditioning. It can force us to think differently, see a different point of view.”
Women film directors in India’s Bollywood, just as in Hollywood, make up only a small fraction of the industry.
Churning out about 1,000 films a year, Bollywood is largely known for its formulaic fare of action flicks and syrupy romances with elaborate song-and-dance sequences.
Movies with female protagonists and stories that challenge gender stereotypes are still rare. This has a far-reaching effect on audiences, said Shrivastava.
“Women are 50 per cent of the population; we have a particular way of seeing things, but it is the male perspective that has dominated for so long in popular culture,” she said.
“This perspective has led to discrimination against women, violence against women. Our popular culture justifies this perspective, and makes stalking seem like love, makes harassment and abuse of women okay.”
Campaigners in India have urged the film industry to stop glorifying stalking and harassment after several violent deaths of women.
There has also been a campaign to rewrite Bollywood songs to end gender stereotyping and misogyny in films.