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December 10, 1998


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'What's wrong with my film? Why are people making such a big fuss?'

Deepa Mehta defends her film, Fire.

Deepa Mehta
I am amazed by this trail of events that have erupted in the last week of the screening of my film Fire. And I keep asking myself over and over: What's wrong with my film? Why are people making such a big fuss?

The main thing is that the film was passed by the Censor Board. It ran in the theatres for three weeks without one incident of violence, not one voice of dissension. And suddenly after three weeks, a group of people called the Shiv Sainiks decide that it isn't worth watching, and shut it down turning away all the people who came to see the film.

A still from Fire
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The Maharashtra government patted them on the back for this act and sends this violence to Delhi, where theatres shut down themselves out of fear of more vandalism. And the central government only encourages them further. At least that is what it looks like when the minister concerned sends the film back to the censors. What sort of a system is this? And who do they represent?

Let me say at the outset that I am not forcing anybody to see my film. If you don't want to see it, please don't go and see it. It's got an 'A' certificate. Nobody is pushing you into the theatre, I'm not holding free public screenings in the middle of Connaught Place. You pay your money and go see it. If you don't want to see it, don't. But don't let anyone else tell you that you can't see it.

There are people that have said that Fire should have only been screened abroad, and that it isn't acceptable in Indian culture. Do those of you who say that think that Indian audiences are stupid? Because what the Shiv Sainiks are telling you is that you are stupid. And that you are actually very immature and undiscriminating. They are saying that if you are a woman, that makes you even less of a human being. You can't be trusted to make up your own mind on what's good for you and what's not. So they will make up your mind for you. I've never thought that Indians are stupid.

A still from Fire
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I wish people would believe me when I say that Fire is not about lesbianism. When you want to focus on something that is sensational, you make that the main part of the film. I've said it over and over again, and I should know since I made the film -- Fire is not about lesbianism. It has a relationship which is between two women, which evolves from emotional nurturing. It is not the definitive film about lesbianism. In fact, one of the things that detract from the film is that really the film is not fair to lesbians, because it shows that perhaps women turn to each other only if their marriages are bad. But people appropriate whatever they want to from the film.

My idea really is, that there can be a dialogue about the issue. I didn't make the film to shock somebody. I didn't make the film to do a thesis on lesbianism -- I am not interested in those things. It is a film about loneliness. It is a film about the hypocrisy of our society today. It is a film about how women don't have choices in a patriarchal set-up. Even though on the surface it looks like they have everything -- just because you have access to satellite televisions and cellular phones doesn't mean you have freedom of choice.

Fire is about a lack of choices. Why doesn't anyone talk about that? Every character in the film, whether male or female, is a victim of society's rules and regulations. I keep trying to explain that to the point that I've lost my voice saying it. But even then people keep talking only about the lesbian aspect of it. And what they are doing is diminishing the film by looking at just one area of the film.

A still from Fire
Click for bigger pic!
I'm not saying it's not there in the film. It's an important aspect of the film. But what about the rest of the ninety per cent of the film? Talk about that. And ask, ask yourself what you are doing about the intolerance to this film and the vandalising of it by people who say they represent you. That they are society's conscience. Because this issue is much larger than your right to express yourself.

It is about your freedom to think and to make your own choices. About somebody else telling you what you can or cannot choose to see. I think you should worry about that.

Deepa Mehta spoke to Suhasini Haidar.

'In a democracy, everyone has the right to protest, but to do so with violence is totally unacceptable'

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