Ashameera Aiyyappan, New Indian Express, reviews new films which add some depth to the topic of female desire in Indian film. September 2020.
The quote, ‘Desire in men is a hunger, while for women, it is an appetite’, is true of how our women characters are shown onscreen. Our songs always highlight certain traits of women. A man is mostly shown to desire a woman’s beauty, but the viceversa can rarely be said to be true in our cinema. The female lead falls in love with the male lead simply because he is the protagonist.
What else would she need? This is why I consider Alankrita Shrivastava’s work seminal in the reclamation of female desire. Her last two releases, Lipstick Under My Burkha, and Dolly Kitty Aur Woh Chamakte Sitare, place female desire in the centre. This need isn’t just sexual; it is a need to be seen, wanted, respected, and more important of all, to be free. This is revolutionary depiction, considering how female desire has always been held as a secret.
It has been thought of a lipstick that needs to be covered, an appetite that cannot be yearned for. While Dolly Kitty… may not be as cohesive as Lipstick Under The Burkha, it is still cut from the same cloth. Dolly works at the government office for fun and looks to be the ‘ideal housewife-mother’, Kitty, her cousin, handles her own demons after moving to Noida for work. The relationship between the sisters is volatile, with Dolly shaming Kitty for the same things she secretly desires.
In a way, the film is about women who, in some way, ‘sell romance’. There’s Shazia, an escort. There is Dolly who forces herself to have sex with her husband. And there’s Kitty who works at a shady call centre that offers ‘companionship’ to seedy men and sells them gifts with it. This representation doesn’t end with characterisation, with the film furthering the female gaze. The male characters are only seen through the eyes of the female protagonists; the vice-versa is the case with the mainstream.
And yet, they aren’t treated as caricatures, devoid of depth or complication. How Alankrita stages sex scenes is an exemplary example of how the depiction goes beyond having a female protagonist. Sometimes, even well-meaning films end up reducing women to sexual objects in intimate scenes. But here, the camera stays at a respectable distance, capturing the mundanity of it all: the disappointment and pain of the first time, for instance. Alankrita’s staging rips sexual intercourse off its glamourous facade. Both Dolly and Kitty have confusions about their desires.
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