When I went to see this film at the cinema in 2000 I was uncertain as to what I was letting myself in for. However I am glad that my friend persuaded me to give it a chance.
This is a beautiful film, about a taboo subject in India, and it is handled magnificently by the director and cast alike. It follows the story of two sisters-in-law (Azmi and Das) who dare to fall in love with each other. Not only do they fall in love but they conspire to leave their inadequate husbands.
Azmi is married to a man who is unable to consummate their marriage, and Das' husband is unfaithful to her, desiring his Chinese mistress over his chosen bride.
However Azmi and Das are living in an unforgiving world that will not recognize their love for each other. The path they have chosen to follow is fraught with intolerance and danger and they have no allies save each other. As their relationship deepens so does the need for escape.
This is not just an artsy movie, it is sometimes funny, often sad and genuinely moving. It also has some darkly funny moments, watch the scene with the family servant, the other mother-in-law and the porno movies, it has to be seen to be believed.
Leonard Maltin when he critiqued this movie it as a man bashing Lesbian chick flick, claiming that the male characters in the film were nothing more than "simplistic chauvinist pig[s]." It is obvious that Mr. Maltin has not lived in India where more often than not men rule and women obey and should you want to be different then may the Gods help you because no one else will.
This film is ultimately about love, hope, redemption and purification; fire being a purifier and therefore when Azmi survives her husband's attempt to burn her to death she proves to the viewer that she is spiritually pure, and the Gods do not disapprove of her sexuality. This is a wonderful film, well acted and superbly directed and of course if you see this movie you will also want to see Deepa Mehta's other movies, "Water" and "Earth".