Our Rating: ★★★★½
L Factor: Lesbian Film
Short Take: Two sisters-in-law, both in passionless marriages, fall in love in India. It’s a great film about tradition, duty, choice, love and desire.
Alternate Titles:
Year: 1996
Duration: 108 min
Language: India, Canada/English
MPAA: Not Rated
Director: Deepa Mehta
Writer: Deepa Mehta
Starring: Karishma Jhalani, Ramanjeet Kaur, Dilip Mehta, Javed Jaffrey, Nandita Das, Vinay Pathak, Kushal Rekhi, Shabana Azmi, Ranjit Chowdhry, Kulbhushan Kharbanda

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Fire

Fire is a beautiful film … about questioning tradition and duty, about choice, love and desire. It’s visually very sensual in color, with two stunning women who take control over their own lives in the context of male authority and arranged marriages in India. One could categorize it as a romance between sisters-in-law, but this film is so much more.

Radha (Shabana Azmi) is married to Ashok (Kulbushan Kharbanda), who fancies himself a very religious man. Because they are unable to have children, and the only reason to have sex is apparently to procreate, he has taken a vow of celibacy to avoid desire, rejecting the affection of his wife. Ashok’s brother Jatin (Jaaved Jaaferi) brings Sita (Nandita Das) into the household as part of an arranged marriage. But Jatin is in love with another woman and regularly spends the night with her, leaving Sita at home in a loveless situation.

Over time, the older Radha and young Sita find friendship, love and passion with one another. Ultimately, they must make the choice to break free of their husbands to begin independent lives, making risky choices in the face of tradition and taboo.

Fire was banned in India after theaters were vandalized by Hindu fundamentalists. A feature on the dvd examines the controversy (further fueled by the fact that Radha and Sita are named after two major Hindu goddesses). Writer/ director Deepa Mehta talks about the film as she is accompanied everywhere by an armed bodyguard. (Mehta later emigrated back to Canada after death threats, being burned in effigy by fundamentalists, and the destruction of the set for her film Water, which dealt with a young widow’s affair with a lower caste priest.)

Don’t miss this one! (AB)