Oh! Guileless Passion! Understanding Indian women’s ambivalent sexuality and gender performances post Feminism in India

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Ms Trina Mukherjee
Dr Purnima Anjali Mohanty


Cinema is a powerful archive; an extension of the human perspective, where the nuanced human existence is dissected and laid bare for the spectators to find their realities. Lipstick Under My Burkha (2016) does that. The four women characters coming from lower-middle-class families of Bhopal, India, are shown to be trying to live their lives on their own terms; but the fetters of norms, gender regulations and patriarchy binds their wings. Foucault further claims that “a norm belongs to the arts of judgment and that although a norm is related to power, it is characterized less by the use of force or violence than by, as Ewald puts it, “an implicit logic that allows power to reflect upon its strategies and clearly define its objects. This logic is at once the force that enables us to imagine life and the living as objects of power, and the power that can take 'life' in hand, creating the sphere of the bio-political”. A melody as honest as this one requires a leitmotif - Passion. As the movie unfolds on screen that makes the viewer recall a vague sense of doomsday, the lyrics in the background confess, “Passion, you ruined my life without ever asking me first.” Deep in the confines of a beauty parlour, one woman tells another, “You know what our problem is? We dream too much.” The film closes with four women marvelling at erotica, where the oldest tells the youngest to have the courage to dream, even as her demeanour sits heavy, recovering from shame. Female Passion (sexual, emotional, career-driven etc.) in a patriarchal, small-town circumstance gives each woman the courage to come alive - and yet, each time they do, Reality shakes the dreams out of their eyes, making them die a little more inside. As with Robert Louis Stevenson’s Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, the confines of a woman’s identity allow her acceptance in society, where she navigates her secret desires in utter isolation (i.e. turning into a symbolic Mr. Hyde) now and then, but always returning to her “respectable face” (i.e. the symbolic Dr Jekyll) until it becomes impossible to separate the two, leading to her downfall. This ambivalence in female identity then seems deeply rooted in a culture of shame, where more “feminist” desires may only be pursued by being “shameless” - she steps forwards in the community to enact the performance of a lifetime (her oppression is, literally, a life-sentence) as she slips from one persona (an actor’s mask) to the next, finding and losing herself in the stolen moments between them. The film then appears as a commentary on sustenance - the Female, in less-privileged societies, helpless in their despair, may only come alive in split persona. Their stories are all the same. Their lipstick (self-expression, autonomy) is hidden away under their (both symbolic and literal) burkas.


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How to Cite
Ms Trina Mukherjee, and Dr Purnima Anjali Mohanty. “Oh! Guileless Passion! Understanding Indian women’s Ambivalent Sexuality and Gender Performances Post Feminism in India”. The Creative Launcher, vol. 7, no. 2, Apr. 2022, pp. 83-96, doi:10.53032/tcl.2022.7.2.11.
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