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Fire

Directed by Deepa Mehta
Canada / India, 1996 (fiction, 108 minutes, colour, English / Hindi)
Also known as "Fire - Wenn die Liebe Feuer fängt", "Fogo", "Fogo E Desejo", "Fuego", "Ogien", "Tuli"

Film Description:
"In a barren, arranged marriage to an amateur swami who seeks enlightenment through celibacy, Radha's life takes an irresistible turn when her beautiful young sister-in-law seeks to free herself from the confines of her own loveless marriage."
-- WorldCat (source)

Film Credits (partial):
Written by: Deepa Mehta
Produced by: Bobby Bedi, Varsha Bedi, Suresh Bhalla, Karen Lee Hall, David Hamilton, Anne Masson, Deepa Mehta
Principal Cast: Shabana Azmi, Khulbushan Kharbanda, Nandita Sen, Javed Jaaferi, Ranjit Chowdhry, Kushal Rekhi, Nandita Das, Karishma Jhalani, Ramanjeet Kaur, Dilip Mehta, Vinay Pathak, Alice Poon
Cinematography: Giles Nuttgens
Film Editing: Barry Farrell
Music: A. R. Rahman
Production Company: Trial by Fire Films, Inc., Kaleidescope India (Pvt.) Ltd.
(sources)

Notes about Fire

(sources)

Quotes by the Director

"There were people who loved it [Fire], and I think some in India were appalled. Nobody was indifferent to it, and that is what's fascinating. The reaction of the fundamentalists to the film could happen to anything that challenges the patriarchal society, and that was the problem with Fire. The lesbian relationship was the most obvious thing for them to hang on to. I found out in talking on panels to people from Shiv Sena [which violently opposed the screening of the film] that what really offended people was that the women have a choice: 'How dare you portray women who choose to go against the traditional ways?'"
-- Deepa Mehta (source)

"To me, Fire was about politics. It deals with questions of identity and who has the right to tell you who you are. This is politics -- and for women, life is often a very political existence."
-- Deepa Mehta (source)

Quotes about Fire

"As news of the cinema trashings spread, lesbian and women's groups mobilized energetically against them. On December 7 [1998], lesbians, artists, and women's groups, along with Fire producer Deepa Mehta, held a candlelight vigil in front of a previously trashed theater in Delhi (Regal Cinema), photos of which appeared throughout the press, including the Hindu nationalist press. One of the most visible vigil banners read 'Indian and Lesbian' (thereby countering the HSS claim that lesbianism is not Indian)."
-- Paola Bacchetta (source)

"In her bold decision to use the names of Sita and Radha for the lesbian sisters-in-law in her screenplay, Deepa Mehta is not merely secularizing the names of quasi-divine figures, she is making a thoroughly irreverent and contemporary statement about the Great Indian Family tradition. If there is anything that the audience has responded to in her film, I do believe it is the humour that is at once satirical in its attack on bogus Hindu religiosity and morality, but which is also intensely familiar in its grounding within the daily rituals of urban middle-class domesticity."
-- Rustom Bharucha (source)

"The public controversy over Deepa Mehta's film Fire in 1999 has allowed for a significant increase in attention in cities to 'lesbians' and 'rights.'"
-- Suparna Bhaskaran (source)

"Fire is the first Indian film to present explicitly a relationship between women as lesbian. It provoked violent reactions from the Shiv Sena, who considered it 'alien to Indian culture' and vandalised theatres showing the film. [...] In reaction to the Shiv Sena protests, Indian lesbian groups demonstrated on the streets proclaiming that 'lesbianism is our Indian heritage', evoking homoerotic traditions in Indian literature, paintings and erotic sculptures, partly suppressed during the colonial era."
-- Shohini Chaudhuri (source)

"[Fire is a] truly marvellous film, and ground-breaking, too, as far as the depiction -- for the first time -- of a lesbian relationship in India is concerned. [...] Director Deepa Mehta's greatest achievement is to place the pair's burgeoning relationship against the context of everyday restrictions on women's lives."
-- Alison Darren (source)

"Fire was released in India in November 1998, over a year after it was internationally released. [...] It was screened for three weeks in the city and the country and ran to full houses. Special women's shows were organised every week in Mumbai. It is without doubt that the film brought the issue of lesbianism into the public domain for discussion. For the first time, lesbianism moved from the grey areas of silence and half-murmurs, to the arena of the 'big' screen. It forced all kinds of people to make public their positions [...]. The film screening was disrupted three weeks after its release by the Mahila Aghadi -- the women's wing of the Shiv Sena (a Hindu fundamentalist party). [...] After the initial period of shock, many groups in Mumbai, Delhi, Pune and other parts of the country organised to counter this attack. In many ways, the film acted as a trigger for processes all over the country."
-- Bina Fernandez, N.B. Gomathy (source)

"Fire qualifies as a queer classic because it is the first Indian film to bring women in love out of the margins and into the mainstream and to provide a body to the shadow-like subliminal lesbian of film narratives in India. But more importantly, Fire inaugurates a new interpretive strategy by explicitly crossing the line between female homosociality and female homosexuality."
-- Shohini Ghosh (source)

"In one scene [...] Sita massages Radha's feet at a family picnic, transforming a daily homosocial activity into an intensely homoerotic one while the other members of the family unwittingly look on. The slide from female homosociality into female homoeroticism in this scene, as well as in another where Radha rubs oil into Sita's hair, serves to locate female same-sex desire and pleasure firmly within the confines of the home and 'the domestic,' rather than occurring safely 'elsewhere.'"
-- Gayatri Gopinath (source)

"Fire's significance lies not so much in representing sexual pleasure between women, as it does in representing this relationship in the context of a joint Hindu family household at the very moment when the Hindu Right is in power. The representation of a lesbian relationship in the film as well as the controversy that erupted around its screening are not fortuitous. Fire needs to be located in the broader cultural wars that have been exploding across [India] over the past several years."
-- Ratna Kapur (source)

"In reacting to Fire as it did, the Hindu Right put its own ongoing agenda of cultural hegemony under the spotlight and sent a strong signal that the burden of Hindu nationalism was likely to fall heavily on women."
-- Julie Marsh, Howard Brasted (source)

"The multivalent reception of Fire in India is most usefully seen as an arena wherein a number of discourses around femininity, sexuality and modern nationalism intersect and feed on each other. The various articles and commentaries presented radically polarized understandings of the function of cinema and of Fire's representations of middle-class Indian women. These responses can be understood only in the context of the difficult shifts and uneasy negotiations that mark the construction of modern India; the different valences accorded to gender, sexuality and religion in competing definitions of Indianness."
-- Sujata Moorti (source)

"[Deepa] Mehta's trilogy [Fire, Earth, and Water] binds the elemental with the feminine and probes the way women are preyed upon and shackled by social institutions, pulverized and bartered by patriarchy. The trilogy represents in its totality a powerful and significant cultural challenge to the dominating masculine values and practices of oppression, subjugation and exploitation of women. Since Mehta happens to be a woman director, her courage in the face of intimidation by the largely patriarchal forces must be acknowledged as the immensely relevant preface to her film Water."
-- Tutun Mukherjee (source)

"Fire documents a burgeoning intimacy between two women, the wives of two brothers, that culminates in their shared departure from the conjugal family and husbands. While exploring the seemingly ordinary setting of married, middle-class, conjugal family life, this film documents the characteristic hypocrisies, tensions, and inadequacies from the viewpoint of these two women."
-- Jyoti Puri (source)

Bibliography for Fire

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