Fire: A Trilogy of Queerism and Feminism
Abstract: Deepa Mehta’s ‘Fire’ is a paragon of the innate oppression that different communities in a society encounter owing to their sexuality, with the movie portraying the same through it’s storyline and screenplay. Heading beyond it’s time, the movie progressively outlined the oppression that a woman allows herself to go through, making it a prime example of how women are objectified. The female community is one that combats astringent marginalisation and oppression pressed upon them through the ingrained patriarchal structure of society. Patriarchy has strengthened its ties through these years aided by human behaviour. Not only limited to the oppression of the female community, ‘Fire’, through its storyline also innately defines the oppression that the LGBTQ community faces in an Indian narrative.
Keywords – Human rights, LGBTQ, oppression, patriarchy.
‘Fire’ is a movie by Deepa Mehta representing a dusky narrative, depicting the miserable lives of two women due to the oppression they face in their households, making it a loose representation of several Indian households. The narrative of the movie undeniably revolves around patriarchy and women being oppressed by their partners. along with this, the movie gives a very strong message, normalising homosexuality with the story of the female protagonists who found love and solace in each other after being abandoned by their husbands. Quoting from the scenes of the movie – “Radha, the female protagonist, being infertile could not procreate and consequently, her partner started visiting a priest to practice celibacy, this had been the course for 13 years”. This can be owed to the fact that women are percieved as breeding livestock and those who cannot breed do not deserve the love of their partners. A similar narrative has also been carried forward by the story of Sita the junior female protagonist.
The plot of the movie mimics the lack of an emotion-driven relationship between both the couples. Over the years, the lack of participation of women in the political hemisphere has been observed and it is safe to say that what happens inside the walls of one’s house is what replicates itself in the outer hemisphere. Women have been tied to traditions and customs which have kept them confined to the household work, childbearing and rearing, giving them the position of nothing more than an entity serving their husbands. The history of homosexuality in India has come a long way and has incurred huge development, when Deepa Mehta’s ‘Fire’ screened in 1998 it attracted various protests where Shiv Sena activists vandalised the posters of the movie, whereas contrastingly in 2018 The Supreme Court decriminalised Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code which deals with homosexuality. The Shiv Sena protests in 1998 lead to issuance of absurd statements like – “If women's physical needs are fulfilled through lesbian acts, the institution of marriage will collapse and the reproduction of human beings will stop.” The movie through its screenplay sparked a debate on the status of sexuality and homosexuality where both the right and left wing had differing or contrasting opinions.
Despite all this, expressing sexuality is still a taboo in many societies across the world, and the Indian society and households are still are not open to this conversation leading to familial problems which often are not even exposed outside the realm of the family. The release of the film even triggered a debate on the violation of human rights within the institution of marriage and in households in general. Through its story line, the movie clearly depicted how the functioning of Indian households violate the “Right to live with human dignity‟ of different communities, especially women. They are denied to live their life on their own terms, denied affection from their partners due to a mere fact that they can not procreate and are left to burn in flames if made an attempt to realise and show their sexuality. In the narrative of the movie, physical violence upon the wives by their husbands is also witnessed which compromises their right to live with dignity. With due respect to the above, it is also to be noted that “’The World Human Rights Conference’ in Vienna first recognised gender – based violence as a violation of human rights violation in 1993. The same was declared by ‘United Nations Declaration’ in 1993.” Furthermore, in the narrative of the movie the women are also denied the ‘Right to equality; as gender discrimination clearly enshrines upon them. Procreation is considered as the sole purpose of their existence and they are constantly mocked for not having done the same.
‘Fire’ screened in the late 1990’s gives out a very strong message - A human should have total autonomy on something as personal as their sexuality. Being in love, Sita and Radha are fascinated in the movie, they constantly try to find time to spend with each other while hiding their relationship from their families, and being unsure of how correct their actions were. “This form of love is new to them, as Radha tells Sita – “this isn’t familiar to me, this awareness of needs and desires.” However, this is the only part about the movie which is unsettling, the notion that these women get to explore their sexualities as a consequence of the unhappiness arising from their failed marriages. The movie also portrays how women are denied control over their sexualities, and in case they decide to explore their sexualities, they are shunned from the society and are given titles like shameless whore” The movie very beautifully and aptly pointed out the notions of Homosexuality and lesbianism. The Indian society does not explain the relation of lesbianism and having autonomus control on ones sexuality, it is a new concept and is not considered normal because traditional Indian households have never been vocal neither have most of the members of families had conversations about their desires and sexuality. Women’s sexual desires are not recognised majority of times, a woman showcasing her desire is a ‘whore’ whereas the man as in the case of the male protagonist, Jatin, has the liberty to seek satisfaction outside the realm of his marriage. The movie gives out a very boisterous message, one’s sexuality is their own, when a man finds it easy to seek salvation outside his unhappy marriage, a woman too can break the norms and traditions. Two females can seek companionship and love each other and so can two men.
Although homosexuality is a very important concept ‘Fire’ deals with, the movie essentially is an example of how dangerous traditions and cultures are, advancing the notion that regardless the gender, everyone in society is controlled by the web of traditions and cultures, women being the most oppressed, the fact can not be denied that these traditions even oppress the oppressor which is highlighted by the plot where Jatin argues with his brother on him being married to Sita against his will, just for the sake of carrying forward the family’s lineage.
This piece has been co-authored by Amisha Mittal and Shubhi Agrawal.
Amisha Mittal is a second-year student of law pursuing B.A.L.L.B (Hons) at Jindal Global Law School. She holds an ardent interest in the field of human rights, particularly the rights of women and children. She has been an advocate for the same.
Shubhi Agrawal is a second-year student of law pursuing B.A.L.L.B (Hons) at Jindal Global Law School. She holds a fervent interest in legal research and academic writing with her areas of interest lying between human rights and feminism alongside other topics