Deepa Mehta's polemical movie Fire got into innumerable controversies because it dared to portray love between two women, a love for which there is no word in the Indian language. Not only was patriarchy, which had always suppressed women's desires threatened by fear of emasculation but the very premise of marriage, i.e procreation , its rationalization was rendered questionable. The fact that the desire to live , to live with desire, was promulgated shocked the sanctimonious pundits who immediately banned the movie.
Sita And Radha, consecrated by custom, are used as metonyms to subversively create a space where alternative forms of sexual orientations could be explored. The young Sita's husband, conducting an affair with a chinese slut, selling pornographic movies underhand emblematizes the objectification of sexuality that constitutes postmodern culture. The servant boy who, in the guise of showing the old invalid matriarch, the ramayana, actually watches porn and masturbates in front of this crippled woman symbolizes the baroque apparatus of commodified sexuality, replete with gratuitous insatiability, that dehumanizes and denatures the emotional reality of sex. And Radha's husband, whose self abnegation is carried to unreasonable excess lies beside his wife and doesn't touch her, just to prove his resistance to temptation.
The two women come close together due to the respective emotional bareness of their respective lives. Lesbianism isn't presented in the movie as a orientation embedded intrinsically. Rather it becomes a funnel through which issues of gender, class, religion and liberation are underscored. The two women aren't born lesbians but become so in the course of their engagement with each other. Soldered, in more ways than one, by patriarchy, which sees them as objects, religion, which mythologizes them the two women learn to lean on to each other emotionally.
The love scenes are delineated with a poignant immediacy which transcends parochialism and throws into doubt prurient possibilities. The delicacy of eroticism, the crevices of flesh, every orifice of which becomes imbued with sensuality, the iridescent moistened bead of sweat, the fragrant breath of cardamom, become surcharged with meaning so that love, not sex, hunger for communion, not desire for physical satiation are interwoven into love's topography. Each kiss, each caress, each gesture through touch represents the emotional reality of sex and its movement towards a realm of being beyond the physical.
The fascinating thing about Fire is also the affirmative message it sends out of a human yearning for completion, self sufficiency and the right to choose and stand up for one's choices. In the endless quest for this liberation the movie's excellence lies in its navigating through the interstices of lesbianism which makes it both a palpable reality and a mosaic of this kaleidoscope of self realization that our lives lead up to. Sexual orientations are not inviolable choices interlocking mankind into an intractable circuitous routes of self destruction. Sexual orientation is a pathway, a conduit that funnels us through to this chimera of self fulfillment which we as individuals are moving towards. The more we advance with confident leaps towards this vision, the more it recedes. The endless horizon stretches and stretches. But Fire gives us a glimpse of the nobility of this vision beyond gender, religion and culture. The fire destroys , obliterates the dross and from its charred remains emerges the incandescent kernel of our existence, the meaning of life and by implication life.