Fire - India’s classic lesbian film


Fire (India/Canada, 1996)

Seen: Saturday, 11th April 2009 (DVD)
Runtime: 108′
Director: Deepa Mehta
Cast: Javed Jaffrey, Nandita Das, Kushal Rekhi, Shabana Azmi, Ranjit Chowdhry, Kulbhushan Kharbanda, Alice Poon
Production House: Kaleidoscope Entertainment Pvt. Ltd., Trial by Fire Films Inc.
Plot: Sita marries into a traditional Jain Indian family. She becomes disillusioned with her new life - it is not a happy one. She finds a friend in her new sister-in-law, Radha. And then they become more than friends…


Impressions In Short
It’s interesting and rather pervy. But overall I felt the style was a bit dated. I much preferred the other two films in Deepa Mehta’s trilogy - Earth and Water.

More About the Film
I’ve become “Bollywoodized” to the point where kissing scenes between Indian actors have become a source of “OMG, they kissed!” for me ;) I guess it’s very infantile, but it’s fun ;) This film had a lot of that. In fact I don’t think I’ve seen a film with a predominantly Indian cast, which had so many kisses before (although Murder comes close). Kissing aside, I found the sexual content in this quite heavy, though at the same time not at all graphic (it actually managed a 15 certificate in the UK). I don’t really want to get into details and spoil it for anyone cause it’s sort of supposed to come out from nowhere and hit you. I’ll just say that IMO it’s not the lesbian theme you should be worried about ;)
The film received a violent reaction when it was first released in India in the 90s (i.e. Hindu fundamentalists attacked some cinemas and the film was eventually banned for “religious insensitivity”). Having seen it I really don’t think it was just the lesbian theme that caused such reactions (though that was a pretty risky thing to do even in an art house film at that time I think). This film rips apart the idea of the traditional Indian family in many ways.
Javed Jaffrey totally cracked me up. He’s an actor I’ve seen in supporting parts in commercial Bollywood films, usually as the comic relief. I remember him best from Salaam Namaste as the Indian landlord, who walks around in his cowboy outfit and declares “I hate Indians” in every scene he’s in. Seeing him in this was a bit of a shocker ;) He plays Sita’s new husband. Unlike what I’ve seen him in before, it’s a far more subtle role. I wouldn’t have even imagined he’d done anything like this - it’s just so far away from the roles I remember him for. He’s very good in this though. He totally gets all the underlying subtexts and motivations. The character is chauvinist (as are all the male characters in the movie), but as unsympathetic as he is, one can feel sorry for him. One gets the impression that if he had gotten to live the way he wanted to, he would probably be a much better man. And there’s a kissing scene with him which totally shocked me - it looked like it had tongue in it ;)
Nandita Das and Shabana Azmi were both awesome as Sita and Radha, but then I was expecting nothing less ;-P I mean Nandita Das I’d already seen in Earth and I knew she’s great :) And Shabana Azmi I’d heard so many great things about that I had great expectations for her and was not disappointed :)
And then there’s A.R. Rahman’s music which is always nice :) Though he seems to have reused a couple of tunes I recognise from some of his other movies ;-P

Worth seeing if you’re interested in the film’s themes, Deepa Mehta’s work and/or any of the actors (everyone puts in strong performances). But I wouldn’t vehemently recommend this, no.

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