Friday, July 2, 2010


Deepa Mehta, Canada-India, 1996 (8.5*)
(In English, with no subtitles)
This film caused quite a controvery in India, and even some rioting among Hindu fundamentalists on its release, who attacked and vandalized theaters that showed it and ripped down the films posters.

The story is about a family of restauranteurs headed by two brothers, the younger of which takes on a new Hindu wife, played by stunning beauty Nandita Das (Earth) after pressure from his family. He is really in love with a beautiful but independent Chinese immigrant, who rejects his proposal. His new bride Sita is thus shunned by him within the home with no affection and gains some consolation and platonic companionship from her sister-in-law, played by the veteran actress Shabana Azmi, who won one acting award for her performance.

The entire family watches over the grandmother Biji, paralyzed and mute after a stroke, but who bears silent witness to the trangressions of all around her, furiously ringing her bell or banging it on the floor to show her displeasure. Biji is wonderfully played by hotel chain owner Kuzal Rehki, in her first film performance.

The two women eventually become lovers in some very tender, natural, and non-gratuitous scenes. In fact, the Indian censorship board passed this film and allowed female kissing, bare breasts, and even male masturbation, all of which upset Hindu traditionalists. The masturbation was allowed because a character was using typical Bollywood films which treat women as vacuous sex object according to Mehta, so this was allowed as valid criticism of a major genre of popular Indian films.

The entire film shows the double-standard which exists, in which the Hindu wife is supposed to be a cook, a baby factory, and a lover and be totally domesticated, while the husbands are allowed a social life which may even include mistresses, often leaving the wives alone at home feeling lonely and rejected. The violence sparked by the film in India from Hindu traditionists, nearly all male as the women apparently 'were jubilant', caused several citizens groups to force the censorship board to re-consider the film for banning, which has never been done. The board again 'sided with the filmmakers in every scene' and refused to censor any part of the film.

Deepa Mehta (photo rt) emigrated to Canada and started her career in television before making her first feature film Sam and Me. Fire was just her third film, and she since has received death threats and cannot travel in India without armed bodyguards. Yet she still made Earth (1998) and Water (2005, and my favorite of Mehta’s due it’s beauty and grace, and Sarala’s child performance) in India, which though similarly titled are not really connected by stories, characters, or locations. The films do all show the plight of the traditional women’s roles in Indian society however, with each film having at least one character's lived ruined by social or religious injustice. In my opinion, she makes films that are not only beautifully composed, with a still photographers skill in lighting, color, and composition, but also films which expose social injustice in stories of typical everyday lives for millions of people, which feel universal as the same traditional prejudices are present in every society to some degree, especially where there is fervent religious activism. She is one of the few female directors to which the term 'genius' comes to mind.

Shabana Azmi (photo left), who plays the older sister-in-law Rahda, is the most honored actress of India and has won 14 acting awards to date. Her awards page at IMDB


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Artist, photographer, composer, author, blogger, metaphysician, herbalist

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These are the individual film reviews of what I'm considering the best 1000 dvds available, whether they are films, miniseries, or live concerts. Rather than rush out all 1000 at once, I'm doing them over time to allow inclusion of new releases - in fact, 2008 has the most of any year so far, 30 titles in all; that was a very good year for films, one of the best ever.

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