Monday, June 24, 2002

Oh, yeah...I'm so out of it. I wanted to write some stuff down about the movie I saw on Friday, Fire. This is kind of an old movie (1998), but I didn't see it when it first came out. It was directed by Deepa Mehta, and had two absolutely stunning women (stunning in different ways) in it, Shabana Azmi and Nandita Das. This movie interested me because a lot of people were absolutely appalled by it (read the imdb entry to see some negative comments), and then a lot of people said it was completely great. Which was it?

Right up front, I should say I am not qualified to speak to the film's representations of the Ramayana. That said, I think it's interesting how everyone decided "this is a film against India," "this is a film against Indian men," "this is a film against Hinduism," instead of admitting, "well, okay, this was a film about a particular family in a particular place at a particular moment." Every commentator seems to want the film to be standing for so much more than I think it should. Okay, yes, the Ramayana is used rather obviously. But, really, the film to me seemed to be about two women making decisions. It wasn't about two women deciding an entire religion was bad, it was about two women wondering where their experiences fit into said religion. Two women fall in love. The environment in which they are currently living does not allow for that kind of love, and they need to make a choice, stay or go. That choice really exists independent of any particular religion. We make "stay or go" decisions all the time, about all kinds of things.

Anyway, I think the thing that people should really be wondering--why is a film with some guy jacking off not necessarily banned in India, but a film with the smallest of lesbian scenes (one bare breast, big deal) banned? Why can't I buy this film and ship it to Canada? What is everyone so afraid of? Add a lesbian and it becomes pornographic. Without the lesbians (make one of the lovers male), it only *barely* makes it into the R category. How many people are outraged by frontal nudity in a hetsex scene? And this really has nothing to do with India, or at least not India alone. I mean, you can't have lesbian sex in U.S. cinema, either, unless one (or preferably both) the women are murderers or insane. Geez, they even cut the lesbian kiss from the Scooby Doo movie. You make all the jokes about doing drugs you want, but hey, kissing a girl? that's really criminal.

Quite relevantly, I just found an interesting interview that uses this movie for a springboard to discuss glbt issues in India. Also, an article of the New Delhi-based Campaign for Lesbian Rights, an organization that came about because of crackdowns against gays and lesbians after the release of Fire.

What I liked about Fire (besides watching two beautiful women fall in love!):

It had music--no Indian movie should leave out the obligatory music/dance number
It wasn't five hours long. Not that I'm complaining about multi-hour Amitabh Bachchan epics, but 110 minutes of cinema is usually a good length for me.
The slight suggestion of the obligatory "wet sari" scene at the end. It didn't really devolve into the traditional wet sari scene, but alluded to it, and I thought that was funny.
The fact that the "bad" characters (ie., men) weren't really bad--they were actually fairly complex for antagonists, and I even felt some compassion for them. I didn't really feel any compassion for Biji.
It was pretty funny, the entire way through.

I did wonder why it was in English, subtitles probably would have made more sense, but I was wondering if the director had some sense that it wasn't going to be viewed by anyone in India anyway.

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