NFDC's film lab enriched Lipstick Under My Burkha: Alankrita Shrivastava

The director of the upcoming Lipstick Under My Burkha spoke to us about nurturing a script in a lab, casting the right actors for the role and the importance of speaking what you feel.

Sonal Pandya

The trailer for writer-director Alankrita Shrivastava’s Lipstick Under My Burkha just released last week and it’s already the fourth trending video on YouTube. The film is gaining positive feedback ahead of its Indian premiere at the Jio MAMI 18th Mumbai Film Festival with Star and Shrivastava is both nervous and excited with the reception the film is receiving.

This is Shrivastava’s second feature after 2011’s Turning 30!!! starring Gul Panag. She felt she worked much harder on her second feature simply because she was at a different place in her life. The major difference from her first film to this one was that Shrivastava took her script to the NFDC Film Bazaar Screenwriters' Lab.

She explained, “I feel that obviously this film, I think my overall evolution as a person, thinking more deeply about life, evolved as well. One is, of course, the technical process, I worked much harder on it, in terms of the lab and also the many versions and drafts of the script. Once the film was shot, we worked on the edit at the work-in-progress lab that NFDC organises. It feels like the script has been really well nurtured and the labs really helped us. The screenwriting lab had a fantastic mentor, Urmi Juvekar. She has really helped me in terms of understanding my characters more deeply. She was constantly pushing me to look within, to find the answers and to figure out their journeys. So I feel for me, that process enriched the film and I think the labs were a big change between the first and the second [film].”

Shrivastava stressed on the need for young filmmakers to have the space to work and better their films. “We need to have this culture of constantly wanting to grow as artists because I feel you have to have that desire to be a better storyteller, a better writer, [a better] filmmaker than your previous work. Of course, you’ve got to be very open and take part in a lab with a very open heart as well. It’s not [just that] someone else is telling you, it’s that people are making you think more. It’s not that it only helps you for that film, I feel it just helps you overall as a writer and a director.” She recommends the process for anyone starting out.

Shrivastava also feels films are reflective of who you are at the time. Since she began working as assistant director and later as an executive producer, she didn’t have the time to think about her own stories and character. She said, “I feel later I realised that it is important to think more deeply about what you want to say, why you want to say it and how you want to say it.”

The idea of Lipstick Under My Burkha (and its interconnected stories of four women and their inner desires) grew after Shrivastava felt she was trying to figure out when she never fully felt free inside. “I always feel that something is holding me back, something is restricting me from within. I’ve been brought up in a very liberal atmosphere. So I couldn’t understand as to why I have so many knots inside me, [why] I can’t express myself fully. I wanted to explore that feeling but I didn’t want to do through characters that are from the same milieu as me. So I thought of exploring the feeling but using characters from a slightly different milieu and that’s really how I made a film about four women who are also struggling with this inner thing.”

Interestingly, Shrivastava had thought of casting four fresh faces for her lead female characters. But as the film was being put together, she and producer Prakash Jha “thought to cast the person who’s best for the part”. Konkona Sen Sharma and Ratna Pathak Shah were her first choices.

Shrivastava with the actors from Lipstick Under My Burkha

She believes that she got so much more from them as “they both gave themselves completely to the part. Shrivastava said, “I think that is the greatest good fortune that a director can have, to have actors who are director’s actors. They really do their best and bring everything they can to the table and they do it in a way that is enhancing the story.”

Lipstick Under My Burkha will have its world premiere at the Tokyo International Film Festival. The film will be shown both in Tokyo and Mumbai on the same day. Shrivastava is keen to see what the local and international audience says about the film as it begins its festival run next week. She concludes our conversation by saying, “I’m very encouraged by the response to the trailer so I feel like people want to watch the film.”

Lipstick Under My Burkha will screen on 26 October at the Jio MAMI 18th Mumbai Film Festival with Star.