Monday, December 20, 2010

Review- Fire (DVD)

Fire (DVD)
Indian (spoken in English)/Drama/F/F
104 mins.

Sita and Radha are young Indian women whose husbands choose celibacy or mistresses over their wives. The two women become friends and grow closer together, forming a forbidden but liberating relationship. A lush, passionate story of emancipation and love, in a closed society. Major controversy led this movie to be widely attacked and banned in India.

(There are extras in the DVD that show major riots over this film and how the Hindu fundamentalists called it blasphemy. Not because of the lesbian factor, but because of both women being Hindu. It’s very interesting. I wonder if it would be different now 13 years later?)

OMG, this movie was so gorgeous, sensual and poignantly moving. Set in India, within the rather strict but normal cultural mores, this film shows a love that comes out of the despair of having to conform to that culture and the fight to have that love. This story was real and honest, the acting amazing, and the truth of life as a woman in India brutally shown. But there is an HFN as the women go for it against all odds, which considering what happened could have ended so sadly.

The film starts with Sita being newly married to Jatin. It’s clear right from the start that Jatin is not into her. Obviously this has been an arranged marriage as is still the custom in India. After their honeymoon they go back to his family home where they live in the same house with Jatin’s older brother Ashok, his wife Radha, as well as the ailing and bedridden mother Biji and a servent, Mandu. Sita accepts this as this is what is expected of her.

They are a middle to upper class family and run a family business renting movies and running a small restaurant. We quickly start to see traditional Indian family dynamics at play that makes it clear that the men get to do what they want while the women are there to be their dutiful wives and make babies.

Jatin is in love with his mistress, a Chinese girl, who refused to marry him, so he goes to her every night, leaving Sita alone. And when he finally does have sex with Sita, it’s perfunctory and cold, just his duty to get her pregnant. Sita is a young Indian woman and her ideas of wifely and familial duty to the exclusion of her own desires is more modern, which clashes with her traditional husband’s family. She has dreams she wants to fulfill. Her only ally in the house really is Radha and they soon form a close bond.

Radha is much older than Sita and as the eldest son’s wife, she has the full responsibility of taking care of the household, including full care of her mother-in-law who’s had a stroke and is helpless. Unfortunately, as a woman in India her main value is to produce a son and since she’s barren, her life as a woman will never be fulfilled. To deal with this, Ashok spends all his time with a guru who teaches that all desire leads to misery. So he’s decided to take a vow of celibacy to challenge his desire for sex, but forces Radha to lie next to him to test himself and then pushes her away. This further makes Radha feel unloved and worthless even though she honors him in that. She’s basically gone through life doing her duty and not thinking about what she feels or wants, accepting her fate.

Outside this, the mother, who can’t talk and see’s everything going on, tries to show her disapproval at anything that strays from traditional, cultural ways by ringing her bell or spitting on people. On top of that, there’s a man servant Mandu who when asked to watch Biji while everyone is out, watches porn on Biji’s TV, while she’s in the room, not giving a crap at how disrespectful that is. He’s also noticing that Radha and Sita are getting closer than sisters-in-law should be and he’s a major player in what happens, which of course is not good.

There are several things that I really loved about this film. The main thing I got off on was how simply, lovingly and innocently the women go from a bond of being wives in the same boat to reaching out to each other in a more intimate way. It wasn’t salacious or awkward but came across as a natural extension of their bond. Although they both know what they are doing is wrong in the eyes of their religion and culture, they don’t feel it’s wrong. And even more unbelievably, they don’t push each other away in angst or fear, nor do they get all giddy with each other either although you see the progression of their beings becoming lighter as time goes on.

There are lots of correlations to mythological Hindu stories that tell moral stories, one having to do with Sita and having to prove her love through fire. That story doesn’t end well even if she does pass the test to Lord Rama her husband. Radha was the beloved of Krisha and so devoted to him. Both stories tell of love that is pure and so passionate. In the movie, Radha tells Ashok, who is controlling all of his desire that living like that for her made her dead inside. That desire made her feel alive and she was choosing, desire and life, meaning Sita.

I don’t know if the writer did that on purpose, but I thought it interesting that culturally, the denial of love and passion between men and woman and the enforcement of duty on the woman is the ideal when Hindu Gods and Goddesses are beloved and worshiped because of their living for passion and love at all costs.

On the negative side, one could say that the men in this movie were stereotypes of the typical domineering male, even for India. However, as someone who lived in India for a total of 2 years, I didn’t find it far from the truth at all. Although I will say that Ashok is a more complex character than the typical autocratic male. He sticks with Radha even though she's barren, when often the case is that a man will divorce a wife if she cannot bear children, particularly a son. He does love her in his own way. And out of both brothers, he’s the more compassionate one. But his cruel reaction to Radha being with Sita is I think a typical one, at least in some parts of India. It was all about him and shame to him and his family.

One thing that I’ve noticed in a lot f/f or lesbian stories is women becoming lovers not because of a sexual preference, but because of their station in life as second class citizens and being pushed to deny personal desires to satisfy that of a man. Or having to be submissive to men. It’s often in reaction to something against men. I wonder how often that is the case? In this movie it’s the case, but it’s true to that culture and wasn’t contrived as I think is the case in some romance novels as a way to bring the women together.

Fire is, in the end, is an uplifting movie. I makes love the most important thing over and above cultural mores and religious dogma. Sita and Radha find love, support and compassion in each other that is denied to them by their culture and status as women with their men. It’s a beautiful, sweet film and I highly recommend it if you can get a chance to see it.

Heat Level: 1- one or two sensually done sex scenes, mostly implied sex- very minor nudity.

Grade: A+


Cathy in AK said...

Sounds lovely : )

LVLM(Leah) said...

I loved this film. One of the best of a love story between women.

mfred said...

I love this movie as well, but in real life:

"One thing that I’ve noticed in a lot f/f or lesbian stories is women becoming lovers not because of a sexual preference, but because of their station in life as second class citizens and being pushed to deny personal desires to satisfy that of a man."

...really and truly upsets me. This is the kind of myth that makes people tell ME, to MY face, that all gay people are gay because they were sexually or otherwise horribly abused in their pasts.

It's a way of making the "choice" to be gay more palatable, because you can explain it away as a sort of cause & effect.

I don't think perpetuating this myth it is at all what Fire is doing-- I always got the sense that the relationship between the women was a blossoming/awakening kind of thing, especially for the younger woman.

LVLM(Leah) said...

Mfred, perpetuating a myth certainly wasn't my intention at all.

While I didn't feel that FIRE specifically tried to express that message, that's what stood out for me. Their culture and their husbands ignored them as loving human beings who had needs and desires of their own so they found it in each other. I don't think that's such a bad thing, nor do I personally think it discounts sexuality.

Being forced to conform to a culture that treats women as chattel is a strong reason to bond with another woman who validates them. Maybe such circumstances push one to finally look at where they are at in a world that supports only one sexuality.

I viewed this film as someone who’s lived in India and knows how deeply ingrained cultural and religious ideas around sexuality and a woman’s place are enforced in India. Sex and women’s rights are taboo even still. So in this case it stood out for me as a reason these women would gravitate to each other.

If this were a western film, the implication of a woman finding love with another woman for the first time who’s less than happy in her marriage would have caused more criticism in me about using that as an excuse for a lesbian relationship because even with homophobia, our culture is far more accepting of same sex relationships than India will ever be.

I also saw Radha as making a choice in this case. She could easily have stayed in her life being the dutiful wife since it took tremendous courage for her to go for it with Sita. Way more courage than for Sita to leave. She even tells her husband that she is choosing desire, life and that means a life with Sita.
You have no idea what that would take for an Indian woman to do that. It's not a decision lightly made.

Whereas I felt that Sita had no choice. She’s driven by her passionate and rebellious inner feelings and can’t be any different.

If the director/writer had shown scenes of both or one of the women having longing glances at another women before they met, or if they would have met under different circumstances like at a job where they would have had more independence, it would have had a different feel to it. Then it would have been clear to me that they were already predisposed to being gay and had just been suppressing it as which point I might have balked a bit.

But even the director/writer stated that she didn’t feel this movie a lesbian movie, but more a movie of two women who come together out of circumstance.

I know this doesn’t fit the lesbian/gay POV that people are either gay or not without any gray, but that doesn’t change that there are people out there who do feel that way and their experience isn’t less valid.

I know of women who have had a lesbian relationship after an abusive relationship with a man. It happens. I think there are lots of women who choose to be with another woman for whatever reason.

I will say that I don’t think we have a choice of who we fall in love with, but that’s different than choosing to actually be with someone we fall in love with.

My question was a question, simply, not a statement of fact. And it was based on what I experience in fiction often. It is used in f/f stories as the impetus often.

I can appreciate that you have to deal with all kinds of homophobia about who you are. I’m sorry for that. But HOMOPHOBES will find any excuse or reason to justify their homophobia. Nothing anyone says will change their minds.

I just don’t think invalidating a woman’s reason for going from a heterosexual relationship to a lesbian one, including abuse from a male dominated world, is going to change homophobic attitudes.

What is does do is make a woman who’s questioning her sexuality after years of heterosexuality feel like shit for feeling and expressing those confusing feelings and that she's got the responsibility for how all lesbians are treated on her shoulders.

mfred said...

@Leah - I certainly did not mean to imply invalidation of anyone's relationship, even imply criticism of your review.

What I simply meant was your statement resonated with me because I have heard it in the reverse of what Fire accomplishes. I apologize for not being clear.

LVLM(Leah) said...

I didn't mean to come on strong. I didn't feel you criticized my review. But I guess I did take that statement as I'm perpetuating homophobic attitudes by bringing up and wondering about a touchy subject of why some women go with other women and that it's all my fault for their homophobic attitudes.

If I re-read it now, I can see how you were just expressing what you felt and not as a criticism to me that I'm responsible for gays getting shat upon.

We all come from our own POV, which makes it hard to get our points across often without misunderstanding. And I'll admit that I could have said that paragraph in a different way, a way that might have expressed what I wanted to say without giving fodder to the homophobes.

There's also a lot more behind my reaction to your comment, but I won't discuss it on a public blog. You can contact me privately if you wish.

The last thing I want to do on this blog is create more fodder for homophobes. I know it might seem odd a straight, well slightly crooked, woman promoting lesbian and f/f love stories and I'll admit that I probably will say things that are offensive since I don't walk in lesbian shoes. But I do try to be sensitive. Sometimes I do miss the mark.