In Conversation with Alankrita Shrivastava – the very talented writer/director of Lipstick Under My Burkha!
Interviewed by Souranath Banerjee
Alankrita Shrivastava – a filmmaker drawn to telling women’s stories, inspired by different forms of art, who sometimes uses books and paintings to prepare actors!
Her second film, Lipstick Under My Burkha was selected and well appreciated at this year’s Mumbai Film Festival.
In Conversation with Alankrita Shrivastava as she talks about her journey as a filmmaker!
Hello Alankrita, welcome to Cinema Forensic! Lipstick Under My Burkha got such a positive response at MAMI this year – how do you feel about it?
Thank you. Yes, it is very exciting, very heartening to know that it’s been so well received.
It is a very gratifying feeling for a film maker when people are watching and enjoying their film; also it is very interesting to see the reaction of people, even from other cultures. My film is rooted in a specific Indian cultural context. So it’s exciting for me to see the universality of emotions and characters cutting across cultural barriers!
Yes indeed. Lipstick Under My Burkha – such a unique name and also a very different storyline, so how did you come up with this idea?
I don’t know, I didn’t think about it consciously. There was this thought that just emerged in my head – that I wanted to tell the story of four women who are kind of cloistered, want to do more with their lives and how they go about doing it.
Even though I am brought up in a very liberal and educated background, I still don’t feel fully free and so wanted to explore that feeling. Sometimes I feel like something is holding me back. I thought that it would be interesting for me to explore that in a way where there are also external things holding you back, not just internal things. The whole idea was that how one can sort of break free even while being cloistered.
That’s very interesting, and when you wrote the script of the film how did you start with it – like you have written the script in one go or like …
No, this script is a very long story in itself, because I thought of the title and the essential concept more or less at one go. I wrote it in 2012 and took it the NFDC Screen Writer’s Lab. That was a very helpful experience. But that time I was also trying to write another film which finally didn’t happen.
So, then at the end of 2013 I decided to work on the script again.
And then I got my friend Suhani Kanwar, to help me with additional screenplay, and Gazal Dhaliwal to work on the dialogue. So the script developed over time.
Most good scripts come out like that only huh?
Ya? (smiles). I don’t think any writer intends to be like that but then sometimes it takes long. But I agree because I feel if you let a thought stay for a longer time it just matures in a way, it deepens.
So, after the script is final, then how do you plan the production, like how did you get in touch with the producers, and what about the casting process?
Casting Koko (Konkona Sen Sharma) and Ratna (Ratna Pathak) was relatively easy – I sent the script to them and they liked it.
Mr Jha had come on board as the producer earlier, since I had been working with Prakash Jha Productions for many years. They produced my first film as well.
But for the other two girls and for selecting the rest of the cast I will give full credit to my casting directors Shruti Mahajan and Parag Mehta. They worked really hard. We tested a lot of people and then finalised Plabita (Plabita Borthakur) and Ahana (Aahana Kumra). So I honestly give credit to the casting directors and my assistants for digging out the many gems in my film. They did a fantastic job!
And so after the cast being decided, did the production start write away?
It took a while. We finished shooting in the first half of 2015. I was editing for a while. Then I took the cut to the Work-in-progress Lab at Film Bazar. The lab was very helpful, because we had editors from other parts of the world, and programmers and producers who were part of this panel. They watched the film a few times and gave us feedback and then an editor actually worked with us. My editor Charu Shree (Charu Shree Roy) and I both gained a lot through that process and made some dramatic decisions about the overall edit of the film.
For me what is nice is that I have really grown with the project because it has almost been like film-school like thing. The screen writer’s lab, the edit lab… And even the actor workshops with Atul (Atul Mongia). He is just fantastic. I learned so much as a director working with Atul, about how to work with actors.
It’s really been a process you know and it’s still going on (laughs) – currently we are finalising the distribution deal for the film’s release and again that’s a challenge.
Wish you all the best Alankrita. Now tell me something about yourself – how did you become interested in films, like from the childhood – your journey as a film maker?
No, actually I went to this all-girls boarding school in Deharadun called Welham Girl’s School and there we had this activity class – where the senior girls would make audio-visual films which were screened at the annual day. It was like huge screen and thousands of people watching. I saw that when I was in a junior class and I just wanted to be one of the girls in that AV team. So I joined the Audio Visual class. I guess that was the beginning for me. I felt the power of telling the story through this medium. Also I always used to read books since I was very young, then my father always told me stories – so this storytelling process was always in my mind. (smiles).
I did my BA honors in journalism from Lady Shriram College and did lots of media internships during that time.
And then I did my masters in Mass Communications from Jamia Milia Islamia. After that I was very clear that I wanted to do films. I started working with Mr.Prakash Jha as a trainee assistant, then one thing led to another. I assisted on Gangaajal and then I was chief assistant on Apaharan, I was associate director on Rajneeti and in between I was executive producer on Sudhir’s film Khoya Khoya Chand and also another film called Dil Dosti Etc. In-between I made my short film (Open Doors with Tisca Chopra), and after Raajneeti I directed my first feature Turning 30!!!
And finally some films that influenced you, made an impact on you as a filmmaker?
I’m not that influence by films in terms of my thought process but I am much more influenced by books, especially female feminist writers like Virginia Woolf, Jane Austen, Toni Morrison and most recently by Elena Ferrante.
I am not sure I love watching films as much as I love reading books. I love making films though!
Thats really interesting because most of the filmmakers say that films have been their major inspiration but for you it has been books!
Because you know, what I feel is that, honestly if you are expressing yourself in a certain medium, that doesn’t mean that all your influences have to come from that same medium. I think film is after all a coming together of different art forms!
So while directing Turning 30!!! the references I gave to my actors were paintings, and excerpts from novels which I felt represented their characters in the film!