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Theater, Film, and Video

Deepa Mehta's Fire
1998

In early 1998, Canadian director Deepa Mehta receives a death threat after the first Indian screening of her film, Fire. The movie portrays an evolving lesbian relationship between two Delhi sisters-in-law who are each trapped in joyless marriages. Mehta spends the next year under 24-hour police protection, while in North America and Europe, the film garners positive reviews and more than two dozen festival awards.

Upon its full release in India at the end of the year, Fire is an instant box office success, but it attracts violent protest from members of a fundamentalist Hindu party, Shiv Sena. Mobs of protesters storm cinemas in Bombay and Delhi, smashing windows and threatening theater managers. They claim the film insults centuries of Hindu tradition and is a direct attack on the institution of marriage.

As a political accommodation, the Indian film censors pull the film from release for a second review, resulting in counter-demonstrations from Mehta and others in the Indian cultural community. They insist that Shiv Sena's objections derive from not from the movie's sexuality, which is relatively modest, but from its implicit message that women should be as free as men to choose whom they love.

After a five-week delay, the censors return the film to theaters without a single cut. It plays to enthusiastic crowds. Shiv Sena ceases its protests.

Some Hindu fundamentalists found the lesbian themes in Deepa Mehta's Fire offensive. See the promotional poster for the film?


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