Veteran actor Naseeruddin Shah came out in strong criticism of the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC), in light of the delayed certification of the film Lipstick Under My Burkha, voicing dissent against the manner and validity of complaints that the CBFC, often called the Censor Board, had put up.
Shah expressed his bewilderment in understanding the concerns that the CBFC had over the film's release. "I really don’t know what problem they had with the film." He said. " I think they have a problem with female sexuality being portrayed on screen. What the film’s success has done is that it has shown [the Censor Board] up, and what they thought about the film. I have seen the film twice, and it’s a wonderfully made film that talks about what’s going on in society. I don’t know why the Censor Board had a problem with that,” he remarked.
The film, a story of four small-town women, had had its release stalled for six months. The argument that the Certification Board presented was that the film was 'lady-oriented' and spoke of the fantasy of women. It also objected to certain sexual scenes and abusive words. The movie eventually got an approval from a parallel body, the Film Certification Appellate Tribunal last month, albeit with sixteen cuts, and after a drawn-out dispute that generated a great deal of controversy.
"One has to ask a psychiatrist as to why they are afraid of [female sexuality] on screen. It’s very frightening to see that the Censor Board can do whatever it wants and practice its biases openly and ban films that it doesn’t like. But the success of such films prove that no one is bothered about what the Censor Board or the doubters think about [these] films.” Naseeruddin Shah commented.
Shah also pointed out this misappropriation of power that the CBFC was carrying out, which hints at moral policing. "For starters, they are supposed to give a film a certificate; they are no authority to ban a film, or stay its release. But then they claim to be someone who can do that. Their narrow-minded approach affects the film industry. But nothing has been done about it.” Shah was quoted as saying.
That a film being lady-oriented is an impediment to obtaining certification, makes no sense, and only underlines the prevailing patriarchy in the system. Cinema, as Director Alankrita Shirvastava said, is a product of the 'male gaze', and for a female perspective to emerge, more women directors and actors will have to speak up from under their metaphorical burkhas. Seeing the manner the CBFC reacted to seeing a women's film, one might almost imagine that these burkhas were meant to protect the world from the gaze of our women, rather than the other way round.