Seminal Indian lesbian movie Fire (Deepa Mehta, 1996) will
shortly be making an appearance on Channel 4 and here at DIVA we're
super excited about it. With an introduction featuring actresses
Shabana Azmi and Shohini Ghosh, as part of Queer India, the brief
season of films showcases some of the country's best queer
Fire sees Sita and Radha meet through two brothers to whom they
are each married. They all live together in a family home in New
Delhi. One husband is adulterous, the other practises celibacy.
This provides the context for the women's awakening feelings for
each other. Seduction and passion compel them to choose desire over
Unfortunately the relationship between the women seems
initially more the result of marital difficulties than of mutual
attraction. This shows lesbianism as resulting primarily by
default, rather than as active same-sex desire.
Another concern is the paralleling of sexual exhibitionism with
lesbianism. This involves a male family servant masturbating in
front of Radha's mute mother-in-law, which is perverted, despite
its humour. To equate lesbian desire with exhibitionist and
indecent sexual exposure is to stay within a heterocentric mindset,
which pathologises same-sex desire by rendering it perverse.
Reservations apart, Fire is a delightful first, specifically for
Asian lesbian viewers. It celebrates lesbian desire explicitly and
overtly, and is a forerunner of films such as Sancharram, also
being transmitted on Channel 4 as part of its season of Queer
Nandita Das is feisty and fiery, Shabana Azmi are both radical and
radiant. Fire is a scintillating contribution from director Deepa
Mehta. Long may it shine. So spread the fireworks and watch it with
friends; it could turn into an event.
Fire is scheduled for Wednesday 17 October but do check listings
Shameem Kabir is the author of Daughters of Desire: Lesbian
Representations in Film