In the present volatile social dynamics, arguing what’s normal and what’s abnormal seems completely baseless, since today abnormality defines the new normal. I find this movie making an honest attempt to portray a different dimension of life from an angle of love. This analysis deals with how homosexuality is portrayed in an Indian and a Jewish society and the conceptions and stereotypes that come with it.
Finding true love and perfect soul-mates might be the hardest task at hand for any individual, the concept about how two people are meant to be for each other, be it someone from the same sex. With the title ‘Fire’ one would usually associate it with hell, hatred, anger, or rage but here the element fire is used to establish warmth and love. Whereas, ‘I can’t think straight’, the title itself comes out to be so cliché, the name itself revels that it revolves around alternative sexuality.
There is a big misconception that there are no lesbians that exist in the Indian society; the movie ‘Fire’ by Deepa Mehta, resurrects elements that over the years have become close to extinct. The society is built up of human relationships that work on certain principles of hierarchy. And very often films represent this society, in very clichéd, stereotypical ways. ‘Fire’ is a movie that breaks away from the Bollywood formula plot, and the viewers are slowly introduced to every situation in the movie so that they could actually digest the idea of two women finding love in each other and sharing physical intimacy. Drawing a parallel to this movie, ‘I can’t think straight’, the two girls find it difficult to compel to what their mothers want them to do, and what the society expects them to do. How Laila is compelled to go out and date a good Muslim boy, and arranging the perfect Jordan Christian marriage for Tala.
Marriage is not always perfect, like some would like to pretend. ‘Fire’ is about how two women find comfort with each other due to failed marriages, there are phases in life when you want to break away and set up a different world for yourself and this is what the protagonists do in both the movies. The society claims to fit in moral values all the time and if one does not fit into this the other fears to be expelled or treated as an out caste.
In ‘Fire’ the two protagonists, Radha and Sita marry into the same family, and share the relationship of sister-in-laws. The entire setup is of a typical ‘joint family’ where the newly wed ‘bahu’ is welcomed with love by all the elders of the family dressed in a silk sari from head to toe because of which she can hardly move. All this in the name of customs and traditions; we see a quick transition soon after, when in isolation she slowly, rather passionately undresses herself as she stands in front of the mirror, and slips into a pair of jeans.
Sita wants to break all rules and norms and wants to set herself free. Very similar to the character of Laila from the movie ‘I can’t think straight’, she cares less about the norms the society abides to and is rebellious in nature. On the other hand Radha is a contrast to Sita’s character in the film, similar to that of Tala’s character, even though she seems to come across as the more powerful one, knowing that she comes from a wealthy family they are both expected to abide by all traditions from the respective communities they come from.
As the movie ‘Fire’ progresses we soon learn Sita has a husband who is cheating on her and Radha on the other hand is barren and cannot have a baby. The need for his wife to have a baby is a big matter of concern because that is how his ‘vansh’ goes on. This is a concept every Indian household would have. Giving rise to two unhappy marriages in the same house, drawing a distinct contrast to Tala and Laila, are two independent women who make most of their decisions by themselves, and so when it comes to being in love they choose who they want to be with.
It is human tendency to seek for love and attention and when you do not get it from your partner you turn to someone else moderately breaking away from all social and moral barriers that are set in the so called ‘society’. The point to note in ‘Fire’ is that Radha and Sita’s characters are members of the ‘dominant cultural majority’, and so there are very less chances for them to be accepted in the society, so it is a rebellious act against the inadequate male counterparts. It is a cause and effect equation. While Tala is a Christian from Arab origin, the cultural background she comes from is very strict, but Laila, to point out, a Muslim girl, confronts her parents about her sexuality, makes more space for all women to challenge oppressive family and social rebellion. She is a character who does the unexpected.
The famous Indian tradition for married women, called ‘karvachauth’ has a great symbolic element in the film ‘Fire’, women keep this fast for their husband’s long life but here we see the two women break their fast in each other’s presence. They break away from the normal ritual; it is their choice to cheat a bad marriage despite the heavy ‘heterosexual’ and ‘male dominated’ society which the characters come from. An irony to this, a symbolic event from the mythological story ramayan, Sita is asked to give an ‘Agni-Pariksha’ to prove that she is pure; in ‘Fire’ we see how Sita even after asking for forgiveness burns herself to ashes so as to prove that she has done nothing wrong in finding love of her own kind. This is an example of a patriarchal society where the husband forcefully asks to touch his feet and beg for forgiveness.
The one question that comes up is do Lesbians fit into an Indian cultural identity? This is a question parallel to the movie ‘I can’t think straight’, where Tala belongs to Jordan an Arab family but is a rich and well to do Christian, whereas Laila is an Indian Muslim with Jewish origin, living in the US, they find love and comfort with each other. So is there a cultural identity to homosexuals in the society? Who influences the definition of cultural identity in a society?
It is perhaps fitting that the film was made by the director with a “hyphenated” national identity, a quality which enables them to bring out both the weaknesses of two cultures, the known and the unspoken of, as an outside observer as well as their strengths as an integral part of said cultures.