On this day in 1998, the movie Fire was first released in India. The
first of Deepa Mehta’s Elements
trilogy and loosely based on Ismat Chughtai’s 1942 story, The Quilt, it was one of the very first mainstream Bollywood movies
to feature a same-gender love story.
Although it first premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in September of 1996, Fire was not shown in India until November 5, 1998 (x).
Starring Nandita Das and Shabana
Azmi, the movie features two young women named Radha and Sita who fall into a
relationship with each other after becoming dissatisfied with their husbands.
The two women are sisters-in-laws who live together in a traditional joint-living
situation. Sita’s husband feels no love for her and constantly leaves her alone while he is out with his younger girlfriend, while Radha’s husband
has come under the influence of a local preacher who has convinced him that
sexual desire should be suppressed. Continually abandoned sexually and
emotionally by their husbands, Radha and Sita begin an affair. The titular
scene of the film is shown in the climax of the story when Radha announces to
her husband that she plans to move out and start a home with Sita and her sari
Fire became a controversial film upon its release. Although it
passed India’s censorship laws, more than 200 people stormed a theater in
suburban Mumbai in a December 2nd riot and burned Fire movie posters. Multiple
protests of the film rippled out from that and other theaters were forced to
cancel their showing of the film. However, despite the riots and protests, many
Indian film critics and gay activists praised the film for its “gutsy”
portrayal of love between two women. Today in 2017, Fire is seen as one of the tenets of lesbian culture in India and
remains a mainstay in the hearts of Indian women who love women.