First published in the Maitri quarterly; reproduced here with permission.
-- Sonya Pelia
All in all I enjoyed watching the movie, controversial and disturbing as it may be. Personally I feel that while the movie raised quite a few questions there were many instances where the comparison of the set up to Hindu epics appeared absolutely cliched and quite artificial.I feel that to bring out the point of the "purity of the elder sister-in-law", showing the entire Ram lila enactment was not required- in fact I do not think her confusion and fear was dealt with very clearly though many might diagree with me. While throughout the movie the physical aspect of the relationship was apparent but not shown(which was impressive) I felt the last dramatic scene of the sisters-in-law together, (when the husband walks in the room) was absolutely unnnecessary and could have been completely avoided. Also I found the escaping of the two main characters to the nizamuddin dargah a bit far fetched considering they were portrayed as devout Punjabi (hindu) wives- it appeared to be an unnecessary linking to religion to the issue in question.
Of course I don't think we can link Deepa Mehta's film making to Mira Nair's - I definitely feel that Mira Nair made her movie very loosely based on Kama Sutra and made the mistake of calling it so -if it had been named otherwise, the expectation of the audience would have been different- instead people went there hoping for a reenactment of the book. Deepa Mehta (though I haven't seen any other productions of hers), did appear to deal with the issue much more sensitively and defintely her movie was quite thought provoking which I cannot say for "Kama Sutra".
-- Madhushree Ghosh
I'd say the one thing thing that troubled me (apart from the fact that the only hindi dialogue was between the servant and the milkman!) is that it somehow implies that a woman is driven towards her attraction to another woman because her husband won't sleep with her. SO if Kulbhushan Kharbanda hadn't been off doing his God thing and had been sexual with Shabana (sorry I can't remember any one's name in the film), then she wouldn't have been attracted to Nandita Das! It would be nice to see a more pro-active same-sex attraction.
-- Raka Ray
-- Farah Nousheen
The younger sister-in-law - played by Nandita Sen, is named Sita in the movie, and the older one - played by Shabana Azmi - is named Radha. The agni-pareeksha and/or lakshman rekha parallel from Ramayana, is not as straightforward as it seems, as Radha is the one who walks through fire.
I thought it was a little strange that the two women should get into a physical relationship first, and then into an emotional, supportive one later. It seemed to me that they confided in each other only after making love, whereas I would have thought two unhappy women in the same family would first bond emotionally, then maybe explore a physical relationship.
It was a little strange to have everybody talk in English - I think the Hindi version would be more powerful, the little exchange in Hindi which the servant has with the milkman was very spontaneous.
But all in all, a very good film, sensitively made. Do watch it.
-- Shobana Swamy
i seem to see talked-about movies only long after everyone else has. i found both kama sutra and fire extremely sensuous and subtle; both were a delight to experience with one's senses, and i would not want to intellectually analyze either.
About the names, which should have been interchanged. krishna's radha would be the one to initiate rebellious action, i'd say, and not rama's sita. it could be that deepa mehta wanted to imply that radha's krishna had another/many other women, like the younger brother; or that she wanted the shock value of using rama's sita as a lesbian. i don't like either of these options. i'd have preferred the names interchanged because one of the ways in which allusions work in any literary piece is by the strength of associations on the part of the informed reader, as stanley fish calls a good reader.
-- Uma Parameswaran
But I was greatly dissappointed by the film and infact saddened. I do not think it did justice to the issue of Lesbianism. I am not fully aware of the issues but I always thought that people are born with certain tendencies and not that you become one because you do not get your desire fullfilled by a man. I do not know how Lesbians feel about this potrayal. If this potrayal is accepted then one may consider lesbianism a "curable disease" which i think is entirely inappropriate.
I also was extremely disgusted at the use of Ramayana inappropriately. To show someone masturbating in front of the Ramayana was to me unneccesary insult to the religious feeling. More so the potrayal of the concept of the Hindu concept of limiting desires in such a negative light and ending with the asylum in a sufi shrine was also quite unneccesary. If anything islam is more limiting of rights of women than is Hinduism.
Basically I am amazed at why this movie won so many awards. Ofcourse all the actors were superb!. Shabana and Nandita were outstanding. But other than that , it did not reach out to me any way at all.
It seems like Deepa Mehta was saying (in a very American fashion) that sex is the ultimate God! That is certainly no cure for anything. As far as realism goes, it was the most unreal situation for Sisters -in-laws rarely get along . Maybe if they were friends it would be more acceptable.
One may attack religious sentiments for art sake if the art actually requires it. But doing it in itself does not make for art and it does hurts feelings.
-- Ranjani Saigal
I was also moved by the final scene of the lovers at the Muslim shrine. At its core, I believe that Islam treats women as equals in the eyes of God. For two Hindu women to seek refuge with the Almighty, ultimately, regardless of caste, creed, or sect, seemed to be the right ending for a country that is so torn politically. I think the film makes it very clear that it's our politics that makes us mortal enemies, not our religion; that we *use* religion to bolster our politics, our self-love, our self-glorification to maintain control over others. The women in the film struck me as a-political and religious, and the men struck me as political and irreligious.
-- Manjusree Sen
Someone mentioned that it would be expected that there would first develope an emotional bond, and then the physical one. I thought that's the way it went. The Karva Chauth scenes seemed particularly relevant in that sense. Also, it was mentioned that the 'other woman', Julie, was shallow and stereotypical. I didn't see it that way --- she seemed a gutsy woman with plans for her own career, determined to escape a country where she was part of a scorned minority. A cultivated American accent ? Well, if that's what it takes to get the 'breaks' in Hong Kong, why not ? If she didn't want to enter a oppressive joint family environment and become a 'baby producing machine', but preferred to have a casual fling -- well, more power to her !
-- Pia Sen
Film description: Set in contemporary India, Fire is the bold and compelling story of two sisters-in-law who break the bonds of obedience and tradition to start a new life together. Stars Shabana Azmi and Nandita Das.