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Fire [DVD] 
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Ashok (Kulbhushan Kharbanda) runs a family business that sells takeout food and which also has a video rental store at the side. Ashok's extended family includes his wife Radha (Shabana Azmi), his brother Jatin (Javed Jaffrey), their ailing mother Biji (Kushal Rekhi) and their manservant Mundu (Ranjit Chowdhry), all living under the same roof. Jatin, at the insistence of Ashok and their mother, Biji, agrees to marry the beautiful Sita (Nandita Das) in an arranged marriage, although he is actually in love with Julie (Alice Poon), a Chinese-Indian. At first glance, you see a happy middle-class family going through the normal paces of everyday life. However, as the layers are slowly peeled back, we find a simmering cauldron of discontent within the family, with almost every family member living a lie. Both marriages in the family turn out to be emotionally empty, without love or passion. While Ashok is an ascetic who has taken a vow of celibacy, Jatin is a handsome ladies' man who is still openly seeing Julie even after his marriage to Sita. Ashok has pledged his total devotion to a religious holy man, a swami, in order to purge his life of worldly desires and temptations. Radha, bound by her sense of duty to her husband, agrees to go along with his wishes. As you can imagine, with both husbands ignoring their spouses' emotional and sexual needs (albeit with reasons that are totally opposite from each other), it is only a matter of time before Radha and Sita look to one another for comfort and to satisfy their own passions. In this environment, it is only natural that Sita and Radha become fast friends, and, in time, much more than that. But their love is not without its share of painful obstacles.
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Top customer reviews
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".
Actually, 'Fire' reveals the sheer hypocrisy of certain facets of Indian society, and how both Shabana Azmi and Nandita Das use their combined touch that integrates both feminism and rebellion that symbolizes their relationship.
Shabana Azmi cannot conceive yet her husband prefers to listen to his spiritual guru and squanders his daily takings just seeking his advice.
Nandita Das is married to a guy who openly cheats on her preferring to have an affair with a Chinese girl whose peers do not hesitate to downgrade Indians in his presence. Yet, his lust for the girl is oblivious to all of these insults.
To my mind, the very character played by Shabana Azmi is a symbol of the Indian feminine protest against the Indian society. The name of the movie and the scene when Radha walks through flames in her kitchen are symbloic of Hindu Mythology's Lord Rama's wife Sita's walking through fire for the proof of her immaculacy, as per the same narrative which appears in the film too. The film could be a great inspiration for women, particularly those in the subcontinent, to search for their liberties and to attain control of their lives.
The film is a bit un-PC because it gives the impression that the two female protagonists turn to each other only becasuse their husbands are not interested in them. I.e 'no one would be a lesbian if they only had a good man to see to them.' The film adds nothing to the struggle of women who are that way inclined to start with!!
That notwithstanding, it's a brave, ground-breaking effort. Mundu the treacherous buffoonish servant is a bit of an archetype, but he gives the film some much needed comic effect.
The scene where Sita returns Jatin's slap will probably prove as seminal in Indian film as did Sidney Poitier's similar slap-return involving a white plantation owner in In The Heat Of The Night. The oppressed finally see fit to strike back and not just take oppression on the chin.
A critic could complain and say that this is not an authentic Indian film, in that everyone speaks English except for a few minor characters. I daresay this was done to get it widespread international acceptability.
Well, that's it. I'd give it 3.75 stars myself, but don't want to spoil the record so far, so I'll go with FIVE!!!!
The pace of the film is a little on the slow side, but if you are patient it builds well into the storyline and there are some darkly humorous moments to enjoy.
The elderly matriarch, whose communications following a stroke were restricted to ringing a bell, had her own way of expressing disapproval - this shocked me slightly but I got over it!
Overall, well-produced, romantic, intense and a bit sorrowful too.
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Most recent customer reviews
Unfortunately the very poor quality of the copy wastes the pleasure of seeing it. Too dark, fuzzy images...Read more
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