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Fire (1996) – A Movie Review

Written and directed by Deepa Mehta, FIRE is a story of two women torn between the customs and traditions, and desires. I found FIRE while skimming through the list of Best Art Movies. Since Shabana Azmi and Nandita Das both are seasoned and polished actresses I thought that it must be a delight to see both of them together; and I do not regret.

Fire is a first movie which moved me so much that I couldn’t resist writing about it. It forced me to think about the certain facts on which I have never pondered over. The realities it showed were never important to think or talk of for me. But I don’t want to talk about this movie as a movie, rather I would like to shed light on the ideas which Mehta perceived and tried to show her audience. And I must say she has done her job very well.

FIRE revolves around the family of two brothers, Ashok and Jatin, and their wives, Radha (Shabana Azmi) and Sita (Nandita Das) respectively. The pivot in the wheel of this story is a carnal desire which every living being crave for. Both the women are sick and tired of their husband’s rigid and ignorant behavior. Azmi and Das have done justice to their characters. Azmi portrayed the role of the devoted wife whose life is caged in the daily routine of the four-walled house. Her responsibility is to fulfill the duties of her husband without arguments. And this has affected her so badly that she has become a puppet whose strings are in the hands of her husband. While Das represents a young woman who wants her husband’s love. Unlike Radha, she is funny and lively. She likes to explore and wants to fly as a bird.

Though Sita is newly married, her husband is distant and show no emotional attachment to her which a young newly married woman demands. This leads Sita closer to her sister-in-law Radha, whose husband hasn’t slept with her for past thirteen years. Together they board on a journey which brings happiness and joy in their lives, which is not only momentary but enduring. When Sita unshackles the iron chains of rusty and rotten norms and chooses to go with the flow, Radha finds her lost solace in Sita and becomes an embodiment of love and care to her. They find their love in each other. And realize that it’s not bad if they want to live their lives. So they develop a sexual relationship between themselves and enjoy the company of each other, until one day their servant Mundu discloses their little secret to Ashok.

FIRE has been said a movie on homosexuality and has received protests from its countrymen; however, I cannot say, was it a beauty the way Mehta depicted the story or the splendid performance of Azmi and Das that not for a single moment I focused on the “core problem” i.e the same sex relationship. Rather I was tangled into the situation of women in our society. FIRE has raised many questions on our society, our norms and customs and, on the people of so-called feminist approach as well. It was not homosexuality which made people furious. People protested and reacted because FIRE slapped hard and showed them mirror that how ugly and selfish we become to fulfill our desires that we do not care about the people around us. Ashok was selfish as he wanted to attain spirituality by shunning the physical desires and by doing so he pushed his wife into the deep dark cave of loneliness and distress. Jatin loved someone else therefore, he never paid any attention to the new girl in his life. He consummated the marriage as it was his duty and never said a single word of love to Sita. It shattered Sita into little pieces. To satisfy his desires Mundu watched porn and masturbated in front of Biji without recognizing the agony and pain through which Biji must have gone through. It was the prejudice of our society that people got mad and hold dialogues to discourage freedom of speech, to reject freedom to live and love, to refuse the fact that women also have physical desires.

I am not advocating that homosexuality should be given space in our society nor I am saying that this is normal. Homosexuality is by all means is haram (forbidden) in my religion and I am not writing this piece as an encouragement for the homosexuals or justifying the steps of Sita and Radha.

Ashok confronts Radha,

What I saw in the bedroom is a sin in the eyes of god and men. Desires bring ruin.

And, I truly agree to this and against all the relationship other than of man and woman.

But, the idea I am trying to put forth is why in the South Asian society sex is deemed a ‘man thing’ and considered a taboo for women. Why our society does not blame a husband having an extramarital relationship and crushes the soul of a woman who cannot suppress her desires which are instill in her by God? Why the society did not held dialogues for those pakhandi (phoney) Swamiji whose stinking and hollow teachings destroyed the personality of Radha? Why we as a society suffocate the desires of a woman? Why even in this age we cannot settle on a simple thing that women also have an urge for the physical pleasures as men do. Rather than opposing the relationship of two women, can’t we discuss peacefully the root of this so that, no Radha and Sita have to take this step in future. I object in calling FIRE a homosexual movie. Radha and Sita were not homosexuals they were driven by the disappointment in their husbands, having no choice; they found refuge in the best possible/available option.

Mehta also portrayed that though pleasurable but the relationship of Sita and Radha was wrong. We see Radha confronting the serpents of her desires which have already engulfed her.

You know Mundu did what give him pleasure. He thought only about himself. Not about Biji, not about any of us. Is it so bad to be that selfish? Are we not also different from him? It scares me.

Don’t let that little rat terrorize you.

No, it is not that. This is unfamiliar for me. This awareness of needs…of desires.

Nonetheless, Radha was weaker than Sita and was afraid to take a step and run away from the moldy norms of her dull and barren life with her husband, she could not leave Sita as she reveals to her husband:

Without desire I was dead. Without desire there is no point in living. And you know what else? I desire to live. I desire Sita. I desire her warmth, her compassion… her body. I desire to live again.

Suddenly, the masculinity of Ashok wakes up from a deep slumber and he starts to put a small series of kisses on Radha only to find out that the woman whom he married has been gone and the woman in front of him is a stranger.

What kind of wife you have become? What kind of woman are you?

And pushes Radha. Radha’s sari catches the fire. But the man to whom Radha gave the most beautiful days of her life and looked after his home and mother pays no heed to save her as he thinks she is burning in the fire of her own sins.

The discovery of this selfishness and inhumanity shocks Radha and I must say the expressions Azmi gave are remarkable.

The movie is rated adult and I give it 5/5.

ثنا شاہد
ثنا شاہد، رنگوں، خوشبوؤں اور کتابوں کی دیوانی جو چھوٹی سی زندگی میں بہت کچھ کرنا چاہتی ہیں۔ انگریزی ادب میں ماسٹرز کرنے کے باوجود اردو زبان کا اچھا اور معیاری استعمال نہ صرف سیکھنے بلکہ سکھانے کے لیے بھی کوشاں رہتی ہیں۔ نجی اشاعتی ادارے سے بطور منیجر، پبلشنگ وابستہ ہیں۔

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