Tag Archives: Alankrita Shrivastava

Dolly Kitty Aur Woh Chamaktay Sitaray

Alankrita Shrivastava’s film, Dolly Kitty Aur Woh Chamaktay Sitaray, does a couple of things which no other Bollywood movie has done so far: it normalizes sex (especially awkward sex) in  ordinary relationships, and deflates the ridiculously overblown representations in mainstream Bollywood of manly hunks and hot babes being transported to some nebulous heaven by the act. It also normalizes the notion that women, especially married women, are as deserving of sexual satisfaction in life as their male partners.  

These are pretty revolutionary ideas for Indian culture, and the secret of this movie’s appeal. 

Shrivastava has established herself as a sexual anarchist in Indian cinema. Her previous offering, Lipstick Under My Burkha, was a fierce jab at the patriarchal, social and sexual norms that still govern most Indian women’s lives. Dolly and Kitty push the envelope further and bring us the mundane realities of sex and sexual liberation, not in a big, glamorous neon-lit city, but in the sprawling, congested, middle class suburbia of Noida.   

Radha Yadav, known as Dolly (Konkona Sensharma) is a housewife who lives in a tiny, unattractive Noida flat with husband Amit, and who works in a tiny office, where one of her principal duties is making tea for her boss and her coworker – the infamous patriarchy is shown reflected in these innocuous, everyday things.  Her cousin Kajaal (Bhumi Pednekar), who has fled her small town home to escape a stifling arranged marriage, comes to stay. 

The movie hooks you rightaway.  At a local fantasia land, Amit’s straying hand fondles Kajaal, who tells Dolly about her lecherous  husband. When Dolly dismisses it as a misunderstanding, Kajaal insists, “Woh meray saath sex karna chahtay hain, Dolly di.”

That line sets the tone of the film. It’s about women who recoil against being abused or exploited or disappointed in their relationships, sexual or otherwise, and are not afraid to say so or take the risks associated with their boldness.               

Kaajal moves out and finds a job with Red Rose Romance, a company which offers soft-porn phone companionship to lonely men.  Her cover name is ‘Kitty.’

Meanwhile, Dolly juggles her dreams of owning a beautiful, brand new flat by employing a little skullduggery at her office, to help fund installments on her future home. Matters are further complicated by a frigid sex life at home and a budding romance with an attractive, young Muslim college student who is the local food deliveryman; she has a potentially trans-gender son and a mother who abandoned her when she was eight, but who now wants back into Dolly’s life.  

Konkona Sensharma and Amol Prasher

If that isn’t enough, events take an exhausting turn as Kitty makes friends with a bold, sexually opportunistic coworker from Red Rose who introduces her to a sleazy world of sex and money, where she narrowly escapes being deflowered by paunchy, alcohol guzzling, real estate developers.

Kitty ends up ‘falling for’ a phone-sex client, Pradeep (Vikrant Massey). She begins to explore her first real relationship with a man, whom she imagines is her boyfriend and decides to give her precious, patriarchally protected virginity to Pradeep.

Bhumi Pedneker and Vikrant Massey

From then on, the movie tumbles through a series of concocted situations which try to make points it just keeps missing. The problem is it tries to address too many social issues at once: a parent trying to deal with her child’s transgender proclivities, sexual dissatisfaction in a marriage, abandonment by her mother and lecherous behavior in her husband. Thrown into the mix are repressive gender roles in the workplace, sexual chauvinism and double standards in Indian men, a sexual coming of age story, religious chauvinism and bigotry, and the ugly, entitled, violence of Hindutva advocates.      

The movie lingers fleetingly on these subjects, like loose threads unwoven from the larger tapestry of a meaningful message about sexual liberation and the average middle-class Indian woman. 

Perhaps that’s because Dolly and Kitty are far from average. They are strong women, trying hard to fulfil what they imagine are their dreams, except that their dreams reach into the murky depths of social prejudice and pulls scum out into the damning sunlight.

They’re bold enough to take sexual risks and live with the consequences of their actions, while still trying to retain what they value as good and real. Kitty cries to Dolly when she confronts her with her promiscuous behavior, “I’m a good person, Dolly Di. I really loved him. I didn’t take a paisa for the sex.”

There are some wonderfully nuanced moments in this film, which highlight the mundane ordinariness of everyday, middle class life and love in suburban India – one is when Kitty’s lover helps wash bloodstains off a sheet in a bucket of water after she loses her virginity. Another is a drunk session between Kitty and Dolly on the rooftop where they touch on almost every defining issue in Indian sexual hypocrisy. 

“I said tata, bye bye to my virginity and I didn’t feel a thing,” Kitty tells Dolly, and her honest, reflective disappointment deflates the sexist virginity myth as surely as air hissing out of a balloon.

“Wouldn’t it be great if there was a Red Rose Romance site for women too?” Kitty quips.

Konkona Sensharma and Bhumi Pednekar bring their usual excellence to their respective roles. Amol Prasher as Osmaan, Dolly’s younger lover, and Vikrant Massey as Pradeep, Kitty’s Red Rose boyfriend, fit in perfectly as supporting cast to this very female centric movie.

I would give Dolly, Kitty Aur Woh Chamaktay Sitary four Chamaktay Sitaray out of five for its entertainment quotient, but two and half for the muddled feminist message it tries to deliver. 


Jyoti Minocha is an DC-based educator and writer who holds a Masters in Creative Writing from Johns Hopkins, and is working on a novel about the Partition.

Edited by Meera Kymal, contributing Editor at India Currents

 

Lipstick Under My Burkha

Director: Alankrita Shrivastava
Cast: Konkona Sen Sharma, Ratna Pathak Shah, Aahana Kumra, Plabita Borthakur

Heartfelt and made with much gusto, Lipstick Under My Burkha amuses, shocks and even makes you cry. Director Alankrita Shrivastava surprises us in this tale of four women, separated by individual contexts but joined by a common will to be free. These women, trapped in their circumstances, go beyond convention, in rebellious but secret stealth measures. The characters are complex and multi-dimensional, flawed and funny, with shades spread over the whole spectrum-just as real people are. The voice of buaji (Ratna Pathak Shah), relayed as her reading of an erotic novel, connects the film beautifully. It gives multiple layers to the visuals, and meanings beyond what one can see. Lipstick Under My Burkha

Lying on a waxing table, a mother of three looks distraught. Her beautician and she have been discussing her husband. “He doesn’t touch you with love down there, does he?” The woman, looks away, trying to hold tears. “Why do you ask, when you know?” You feel a lump rising in your throat. In another scene, the beautician records her sex act with her boyfriend, just after getting engaged to another man. But she is also a woman in love. A 55-year old woman secretly has phone sex with a much younger swimming instructor, and he has no clue about her identity. Scenes like these and many more make Lipstick Under My Burkha tick and make the characters real. The actors give superlative performances, with a rare slipping of accent.

It takes a break from run-of-the-mill Bollywood romances, and speaks from the heart, in this case that of a woman. A film that unlike Bollywood films refuses to objectify women, and gives them real heart and soul. Women have dreams, women have desires, women have sexual desires, and seek control, at least of their bodies.

In an old residential building owned by buaji that houses all the central characters, Konkona Sen Sharma plays Shirin, a young mother of three and a secret saleswoman. She shines in the role of a repressed yet defiant wife, raising many a questions about independence, self-reliance, and respect for women.

Rehana (Plabita Borthakur), a young college girl, dreams of becoming a singer, struggling against her ultra-conservative upbringing. She attempts to blend in with the other college goers, even if it requires stealing, smoking or late night partying. This story seems to have a flawed sense of modernity, and in that sense falls short of the expectations and bars that the others set. It seems to propound conformity over exploration and adherence over questioning.

Leela (Aahana Kumra), a young beautician with a sizzling sex life with her boyfriend, is being forced into an arranged marriage. She is desperate to make money and struggles to start her own business. She is open and unabashed, even to the extent of cheating on her fiancé.

Buaji, addicted to erotic fiction, and widowed for far too long, craves to explore her sexuality. Her fascination threatens to spill into real life. At the age of 55, she seeks intimacy, which in case of a man would never even be question. But here, it is set to ruffle a few feathers.

The attempts of these women, at stealing this small slice of freedom results in comedy, and often in tragedy. The key strength of this plot is that these women don’t judge each other, taking their lives with a pinch of salt as they continue forward with indefatigable spirits.

The cinematography of the film adds to its realistic, raw feel. The editing helps seamlessly navigate through multiple narratives. The songs and music elevate the film. The pace in the middle part slackens a bit, but the engagement is high and we tide over it.

Refused a censor certificate for being “too lady oriented” and cited for “sexual scenes, abusive words and audio pornography,” the film has been blazing a remarkable streak on the festival circuit. Under that burkha lies a lipstick, and a heart.