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“Regressive” India censor refuses certificate for acclaimed ‘Lipstick Under My Burkha’

India’s notorious new censor board has come under attack from freedom of speech activists and the film fraternity once again after banning a film about sexually liberated women in India.

The film – titled ‘Lipstick Under My Burka’ – tells the secret lives of four women including a college student who wears a burka and a 55-year-old who rediscovers sex after the death of her husband .  about sexually liberated women.

But the Central Board of Film Certification has described the film as ‘lady-oriented’, contained ‘audio pornography’ and that it would not clear it for general release.

A letter riddled with errors written by the board and later revealed by actor Farhan Akhtar states: “The story is lady oriented, their fantasy above (sic) life.  There are contanious (sic) sexual scenes, abusive words, audio pornography and a bit sensitive touch about one particular section of society, hence film refused under guidelines (sic)…’

The move has sparked a furious response from the film’s director Alakrita Srivastava and its producer, the veteran filmmaker Prakash Jha.

‘Lipstick Under My Burkha’ had won an award at the Tokyo International Film Festival in 2016 and was also screened at the MAMI Mumbai Film Festival.

One character portrays a young small town girl nurturing her dream to be a singer, while another girl takes ‘naughty’ selfies.

Shrivastava described the CBFC’s ruling as an ‘assault on women’s rights’.

“For too long the popular narrative has perpetuated patriarchy by objectifying women or minimising their role in a narrative,’ she said in a statement carried by the Press Trust of India news agency on Thursday.

“So a film like “Lipstick Under My Burkha” that challenges that dominant narrative is being attacked because it presents a female point of view. Do women not have the right of freedom of expression?,’ Shrivastava added.

The filmmakers can approach the CBFC’s appeal panel and Shrivastava said she would fight the ruling.

Social media users took to Twitter to mock the film board’s ruling.

One, Heena Khandelwal, told the CBFC to ‘grow up’ while Neeraj Ghaywan, a film director, wrote: ‘Privileged men have an issue with sexually liberated women. ‘Cannot be issued’ is a ban. Let’s call it that.’

India’s censors have a long history of barring movies and cutting scenes, including those deemed too racy or capable of causing religious offence, and filmmakers accuse them of intolerance.

In 2015 the CBFC blocked the release of a toned-down version of ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ and deemed two James Bond kissing scenes unsuitable for an Indian audience.

The CBFC and its new head Pahlaj Nihalani has come under attack in the past two years or so for its increasingly draconian moves.  Previous films to have gone under the CBFC’s knife include the Bond flick ‘Spectre’ and Vishal Bhardwaj’s acclaimed ‘Haider’ as well as scores of films with “alternative” narratives.

Nihalani defended the board saying its decision to refuse a certification for the film was part of the CBFC’s “anti corruption drive” aimed at cracking down on “pornography in film”.

Bollywood however, has come out in support of Srivastava and her film.  The actress Kalki Koechlin called on the CBFC to grow up while filmmaker Ram Gopal Verma said the decision showed that India was stuck in the “Middle Ages”.

Many Twitter users described the move as “regressive” and called for Nihalani to step down.

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