Shohini Ghosh’s book contends that Fire is a queer classic for both cinematic and historic reasons, mapping its achievements against the larger socio-political developments that were unfolding in India at the turn of the new millennium.
Fire delves into the controversial film by Indo-Canadian filmmaker Deepa Mehta, the first on lesbian love to have a commercial release in India.
Fire is the story of Radha and Sita, the wives of two brothers, who fall in love with one another. The film opened to critical acclaim in 1996, travelled the international circuit, and was finally distributed in India in 1998.
But a few weeks after the film’s release, activists of the Hindu right unleashed their fury upon the film. Rampaging mobs vandalized theatres and attacked the film for promoting ‘perversion’ and insulting the Hindu religion.
The protests were resisted with equal vigour, resulting in post-independence India’s first public debate on homosexuality.
The incendiary controversy over the film gave queer sexuality and activism a heightened visibility in India, and ‘taught’ mainstream audiences to read ‘queerly’.