Format: 35mm Colour
Runtime: 104 min
Trial by Fire Films
Radha (Shabana Azmi) is unwavering in her devotion to her husband Ashok (Kulbushan Kharbanda), despite their sexless arranged marriage. For fifteen years, Radha has been the consummate Indian wife while Ashok, under the guidance of a spiritual leader, has been attempting to rid himself of any form of desire.
Meanwhile, Ashok’s brother Jatin (Jaaved Jaaferi) has brought home his new wife Sita (Nandita Das), but is unwilling to give up his relationship with his Chinese girlfriend. Added to the mix are Biji (Kushal Rekhi), Ashok and Jatin’s infirm mother, who keeps a watchful eye over the family, and Mundu (Ranjit Chodhry), who works in the family’s restaurant and video store under their small apartment. Unable to woo her new husband, the young and feisty Sita is the first to question the order of things. Her doubts are contagious, and soon Radha’s devotion begins to waver, too. Deprived of their husband’s affections, the two women draw closer together in ways neither imagined.
Billed as the first Indian film about lesbianism, Fire tackles the conflict between traditional and modern values in contemporary India. Beautifully wrought, sensual, funny and heartbreaking, its budget of slightly less than $2 million (CDN) had to be financed privately since the film – which was not only set and shot in India with an all-Indian cast, but also had no distributor attached – did not qualify for public funding. In fact, it was not initially classified as a Canadian film until an appeal to the CRTC resulted in an unprecedented reversal and granting of Canadian status. Nonetheless, the film opened the Perspective Canada programme at the Toronto International Film Festival®.
Criticized by some for its didacticism, praised by others for its lyricism and stunning cinematography, the film enjoyed a successful international run in more than thirty countries. Fire did extremely well during its first three weeks in India, selling out virtually all screenings and generating hot-topic debates in newspapers, Internet chat rooms and on university campuses. However, violent protests at theatres, led by the Shiv Sena – the most extreme of India’s Hindu nationalist parties – resulted in the film being pulled from distribution in the country. (It was also banned in Singapore and Kenya due to pressure from Indian communities there.) Shabana Azmi, the film’s star and an independent member of India’s upper house of parliament, launched a protest in parliament demanding the government condemn the attacks.
Fire was voted most popular Canadian film at the 1996 Vancouver International Film Festival and won eleven major international awards on the festival circuit, including the Audience Award at the Barcelona International Women’s Film Festival and Outfest in Los Angeles and the Special Jury Prize at the Mannheim-Heidelberg International Film Festival. It was the first of three films in Mehta's "elemental trilogy," which also includes Earthand Water.