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Festivale Spring 1997


If you have not seen a true Bollywood film (this Fire isnít), then you have missed a treat. Bollywood (Bombay Hollywood) is a strictly glossy genre of Indian films with extraordinarily extravagant musical production numbers that leave you wondering if an MTV music clip has been cut into the film. ITís not cinema verite.

Fire, on the other hand, endeavours to show Indian people in Indian society. It is a film about vision ó about learning to see what is beyond the limit of your eyes ó and beyond the limit of the life prescribed for you.

Poster, Fire (fire1.jpg - 18.46 K)

Movie Still, Fire, Festivale film review

Two women are married to two brothers, and they all work in the family store. The women also work in the family home, which includes caring for the stroke-stricken matriarch (Kushal Rekhi).

They are sexual objects, discarded. The older brother has embraced a guru and uses his wife as a test of his celibacy, asking her to lie beside him, untouched. Her young sister-in-law is married to a reluctant bridegroom in love with an ambitious Chinese woman. He too ignores his wife, keeping her for possible future use as a baby maker.

What possibilities are open to these people?

Movie still, Fire, Festivale film review

Writer/Director Deepa Mehta uses the legend of Sita and Ram to show how difficult it is to win. Ram accuses Sita of being unfaithful to him. He demands that she be burnt to prove her love and faithfulness. She survives the fire, proving her good behaviour, only to be exiled, because she is a distraction from other, more important, things.

This film is a widow into a different way of life. The two brothers have different bedrooms, one modern, one traditional. Their shop is part traditional food, part video store. The wives are likewise traditional and daring.

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The women in their saris and household servitude are unfilled, trapped by the choices of their menfolk, until another solution occurs to them.

In the final scenes of the film, when a woman screams in her burning sari, her husband acknowledges her as a possession, not a person, by walking away. What use is an object that refuses to be an object?

Fire is beautifully visualised and realised. The actors give reality and conviction to their parts. This is a tale of life, with itís high and low comedy as well as drama, which keeps it from being too worthy to be entertaining. Itís not bubble-gum cinema, like Bollywood or Hollywood mainstream films, but a look at real people and real places.

Reader Review:

Ali Kayn wrote: "What use is an object that refuses to be an object?" and this reminded me of my reading of the French feminists Luce Irigaray and Helene Cixous, who both spoke of the way in which commerce between women (both monetary and sexual) was forbidden in so many societies precisely because it represented two "objects" interacting - without the permission or profit of their owners. The film FIRE brought out those ideas again for me, and the way that the two women's husbands used them as stepping stones for their own spiritual, familial or financial betterment was shown up in stark relief. Then it looked at the way that women's rebellion is codified in so many societies as unlawful/sacrilegious behaviour!

The best thing, for me, though, was the discussion we had afterward with the Indian couples who were in the theatre. They loved the constant references to mythology that I misunderstood, didn't get, or didn't see, as well as talking about how the position of women in their community is changing and the way that the rise of the film star, particularly the lead roles in this film, is bringing women to prominence in their society. We should also mention here that India makes about a hundred times as many films as Hollywood. But how many are released to English-speaking countries? (How many are we open to receive?) - Sarah Endacott

Click here to buy films from one of the online stores in Festivale's on-line shopping mall Definitely worth a look.

Ali Kayn

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Just the Facts:

Title: Fire (1996)
Written by: Deepa Mehta
Directed by: Deepa Mehta
Produced by: Bobby Bedi; Varsha Bedi; Suresh Bhalla; Karen Lee Hall; David Hamilton (IV); Anne Masson; Deepa Mehta
Edited by Barry Farrell
Director of Photography: Giles Nuttgens

The Players: Kushal Rekhi; Shabana Azmi; Ranjit Chowdhry; Nandita Das; Jaaved Jaaffery.
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Published in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
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Filed: Nov-1997
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