Fire, Dir. Deepa Mehta (1996)

 

From left to right: Nandita Das, Shabana Azmi Photo:Zeitgeist/Dillipa Mehta/www.danceswithshadows.com

From left to right: Nandita Das, Shabana Azmi Photo:Zeitgeist/Dillipa Mehta/www.danceswithshadows.com

Fire is the first part of an elemental triology by female Indian director Deepa Mehta (in-itself a unique perspective).

This film is a moving portrayal of a love between two sister-in-laws Sita and Radha played to perfection by Nandita Das (simply beautiful-pictured above) and Shabana Azmi. Their bond is something that grows despite religions and tradition calling their love a sin and calling upon them to wait upon their husbands. Radha’s being the traditionally misogynistic, insensitive and morally hypocritical Ashok who spends more time with his swami then with his wife and vows celibacy after Radha realises she is infertile. 

 A situation which leaves Radha feeling guilty, worthless and ‘dead inside’ until Sita comes along to renew her sense of vitality and purpose. While Sita’s husband Jatin is a boorish man equally careless, selfish and dedicated to his lover Indian-Chinese Julia (and all things Chinese). Who makes him appear pathetic and emasculated in comparison.

Their relationship flowers as their other relationships deteriorates and as they grow more intimate their increased vivacity and sense of freedom is a joy to behold. Radha who begins the film as a submissive and loyal wife becomes independent and sheds her adherence to her role, wearing make-up and dancing with Sita (as-well as doing other things). While Sita who started as a naive waif looking for a love she couldn’t get from Jatin becomes emboldened and questions her role as his wife in an arranged and loveless marriage.

They are supported by host of interesting and sometimes comic characters including the central matriachal figure of Biji, whose presence marks the sense of iron adherence to tradition that the two women are able to escape in the end. Biji’s sense of empowerement is literally and metaphorically taken away by both her previous stroke leaving her prostrate and silent, and by her status as the symbol of tradition. She is a sign of traditional India’s disaproval ringing her bell whenever Sita and Radha get too close.

The film is beautifully shot when Sita and Radha make love they do it in a cocoon of white swirling cotton sheets. And when the film ends the rains come to clean Sita and Radha (suggesting renewal and rebirth after radha literally and metaphorically goes through fire) in a an almost fantasy-like environment with stray fountains trees and temples.

The flashbacks to Radha’s childhood too set in a field of yellow flowers is wonderfully done and illustrates her growth, (she is told by her mother to close her eyes and see the field but she can’t see it till later) as she realises the power of the mind to overcome a narrow-minded viewpoint.

Overall a beautifully moving film even if the ending may not be entirely realistic. It’s a great portrayal of love overcoming massive obstacles of religion, national identity, and tradition.Fi

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1 Comment

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