NEW DELHI, Dec 14 (AFP) - A radical Hindu leader whose party has vandalised cinema halls showing a lesbian love story has said the attacks would cease if the two women were shown to be Moslem instead of Hindu, a daily said Monday. Bal Thackeray, whose party rules India's film capital Bombay, told the Pioneer newspaper that contrary to the story of the film "Fire," lesbianism did not exist in Hindu families. Thackeray said he was enraged because the two women, unhappily married sisters-in-law who desert their unfeeling spouses, were named Sita and Radha, leading Hindu goddesses worshipped all over the country. "Why does the story revolve around a Hindu family?" he said. "Why has the filmmaker named the main characters Sita and Radha?" He said his party would stop the attacks if the two women were given Moslem names. "Could not the filmmaker have named them Shabana, Saira or Najma?" he said. "Fire may have received 14 international awards but will anyone deliberate on the harm these people are doing by ushering in a wretched culture?" Fire's Canada-based director Deepa Mehta and leading Indian film personalities including actor Dilip Kumar and director Mahesh Bhatt, filed a 17-page petition in the Supreme Court last week seeking protection for the film. The court was urged "to take all steps as are necessary to provide a sense of security, apart from mere protection so that the film can be exhibited." Hindu fundamentalists have attacked theatres showing the film in New Delhi, Bombay and other cities, causing it to be sent back to India's censor board for review. "Fire", however, is currently being shown in movie halls. Activists from Thackeray's party on Sunday stripped down to their underwear during a protest outside the Bombay home of actor Dilip Kumar, who filed the petition against the protests, along with Deepa Mehta. Kumar, a Moslem who has been decorated with Pakistan's highest civilian honour, did not comment on the incident but it drew severe condemnation from Lal Krishna Advani, India's Home Minister and cabinet number two. "Peaceful demonstrations are part of democracy which can be understood," Advani said late Sunday. "However, there is no place for violence or exhibition of human parts in it." Mehta, an acclaimed feminist director, had enraged Hindu fundamnetalists further last week by claiming that gay relationships were prevalent in ancient Indian society. "Lesbian relationships are part of the Indian heritage and the film brings into the public domain the hypocrisy and tyranny of the patriarchal family, the issue of women's sexuality and makes a strong statement about women-women relationships," she had said. The film stars leading Indian actress and parliamentarian Shabana Azmi, who has worked with international stars such as Shirley Maclaine, and Nandita Das, the daughter of one of India's top painters. Thackeray's views were echoed on Sunday by junior information minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi one of the two Moslem ministers in India's Hindu nationalist-led coalition government. Naqvi told reporters in the northern city of Bareilly that "anything cannot be shown in films in the name of freedom of expression" adding the "image of India as a land of squalor and poverty was being sold to Western countries for a high price for many years."
NEW DELHI, Dec 7 (AFP) - An acclaimed feminist film director Monday appealed to India's Supreme Court to ensure that screenings of her latest work, a lesbian love story, are no longer disrupted by radical Hindus. Canada-based Deepa Mehta and leading Indian film personalities including actor Dilip Kumar and director Mahesh Bhatt, filed a 17-page petition seeking protection for the film "Fire." The court was urged "to take all steps as are necessary to provide a sense of security, apart from mere protection so that the film can be exhibited." Hindu fundamentalists have attacked theatres showing the film in New Delhi, Bombay and other cities. Based on the love of two sisters-in-law, both unhappily married, it stars top actress Shabana Azmi, who is also a parliamentarian. The protests have led the film to be sent back to India's censor board for a review. "Fire", however, is currently being shown in movie halls. About 400 women, including director Mehta and lesbian activists, meanwhile picketed a movie hall in New Delhi's downtown Connaught Place where protests had led the management to stop screening "Fire." The demonstrators denounced last week's violence and urged the owners to resume shows. A protestor screamed: "Lesbianism is prevalent everywhere. Why pretend it does not happen here." Mehta argued in her court petition that her "fundamental right" as a film maker had been "strangulated by the violence against the movie" and sought an investigation "into the acts of violence committed." The protest against "Fire" was ignited by the Hindu militant Shiv Sena party, which rules India's film capital Bombay. Shiv Sena activists say the theme is "un-Indian" and could "corrupt" Indian women.
Film Director Accuses India Gov't .c The Associated Press By RAMOLA TALWAR BADAM BOMBAY, India (AP) -- The director of a film that features a lesbian kiss and has sparked protests in India criticized demonstrators on Friday and accused local government officials of complicity in the uproar. Right-wing activists in Bombay, New Delhi, and other cities have stormed into theaters this week to try to stop showings of ``Fire,'' saying its sexual content was an affront to Hindu values. ``We have condemned the methods used by the miscreants and the overt support they received from the state government. These attacks must be stopped,'' director Mahesh Bhatt said. A group of prominent theater and movie figures, including Bhatt, signed a petition Friday and sent it to the Supreme Court chief justice protesting the campaign against ``Fire.'' The Indian Censor Board is known for a heavy hand, but allowed ``Fire'' to be shown with no cuts. In addition to the women kissing, the film has a brief nude scene. The movie had run to packed houses for three weeks in Indian cities, causing little more than raised eyebrows and a smattering of protests. But the protests by the rightist Shiv Sena party have caused all shows of the movie to be suspended in Bombay. The film is about two women who have a lesbian relationship because of their unhappy marriages to two brothers. Homosexuality and the unhappiness of women in traditional families are rarely discussed in India.
BOMBAY, Dec 3 (AFP) - Attacks by right-wing Hindus on cinema theaters screening an Indian film portraying a lesbian romance sparked controversy on Thursday with MPs and leading social activists condemning the "gay-bashing." Some 200 Hindu nationalists on Wednesday vandalised two cinema halls in Bombay, the hub of India's film industry and its gay capital, for showing "Fire" in which top Indian actress Shabana Azmi leaves her celibate husband for her sister-in-law, who is also unhappily married. The controversy rocked parliament in New Delhi Thursday with opposition members slamming the Hindu nationalists for "intolerance" and "hoodlum rule" in Bombay. Azmi, who was present in the house, watched the fiery debate but did not comment or interject. The attacks triggered a strong reaction among social activists in the country. Leading the chorus was India's best-known gay activist Ashok Row Kavi who said the protests were the latest form of "gay bashing in homophobic India." "It is tragic that when Oscar Wilde, who represents the criminalisation of homosexuality, is being reinstated in his country with his statue unveiled in central London, such a thing is happening here," he told AFP from Bombay. Kavi, a former Hindu monk, argued the attackers were ignorant of their own religion. "Our criminal laws on homosexuality were bequeathed to us by the British, who had a Christian view of things, and based it on the King James Bible. Saint Augustine says lust is suspect because it obstructs in the exercise of free will. "Hinduism on the other hand defines sex as one of the three ways of attaining salvation. Hinduism does not run away from sexuality and does not pass judgement on people who have different preferences." However, Meena Kulkarni, a member of a Hindu party in power in Maharashtra, of which Bombay is the capital, on Thursday said she would extend the protests to other parts of the sprawling state and the rest of the country. Kulkarni told AFP that Shabana Azmi, who has worked with international stars such as Shirley Maclaine, should be stripped of her membership of the federal parliament. "She should be thrown out. She has insulted Indian women. They have shown two women having a physical relationship. "Even if such things go on on the sly, by showing them on the screen we are actually informing others about such acts of perversion. It will spoil our women." Azmi said she was "shocked that a small group of people can take the law into their hands and disrupt a film that has been duly passed by the censor board and won 14 international awards, including two for best acting by me. "The film is receiving an overwhelming response all over the world," she said, adding that noted feminist Gloria Steinem had called it a "landmark film." Shobha De, a leading Bombay socialite-turned-writer dubbed "India's Jackie Collins," slammed the attacks, saying they did not reflect the public mood in her city. "This is a miniscule section representing a certain view. The whole city does not think like that." De, one of the first people to see the film, however, said the plot -- two women living under one roof and drawn to each other due to their husbands' neglect -- was ridiculous. "Its suggests if a woman is unhappy or lacking in male company, she leaps into the bed of the first available women as a preference. That kind of thing happens in remand homes and prisons but rarely in a normal-life situation." Kavi backed her on that count. "I am against the depiction. It disempowers female bonding. Women in India traditionally hug and show other physical forms of intimacy without anything going on between them. Those relationships may now become suspect."
BOMBAY, India (AP) -- Dozens of right-wing activists stormed two theaters in Bombay today, prompting a movie distributor to suspend the showing of an internationally acclaimed film about a lesbian relationship. The protesters claim the movie ``Fire,'' the first film from India to focus on lesbianism, distorts their culture. At least 100 activists with the right-wing Shiv Sena Party surrounded the theater managers and demanded the movie not be shown. The movie's distributor, Shringar Films, suspended showing of the movie in Bombay, citing concern for audience safety. Shiv Sena activists have used violence to get their way on other issues. ``We will wait and watch. Ultimately, audience safety is more important,'' said Balkrishna Shroff, an owner of Shringar Films. ``Fire'' has been packing theaters in the three weeks it has been running in Bombay. Angry ticket-holders lined up for a refund. ``Why can't those who cannot stomach sensitive subjects not come for the films instead of stopping us from seeing good cinema,'' said Naina Fernandes, a college student.
Lesbian film sets India on Fire
BBC Online, Nov. 13, 1998 By South Asia Correspondent Daniel Lak When the film Fire opens in Indian cinemas it will undoubtedly cause outrage, enlightenment and confusion. Fire has already been shown in many other countries, but the Indian censor board wanted to give it a thorough examination. Daniel Lak asks if India is ready for FireIt passed, and this powerful story of two sisters-in-law who fall in love, is being shown uncut in English and India's national language, Hindi. When the film was shown last year at two Indian film festivals, there were strong reactions, including negative ones from the influential social conservatives in India. But one group of people in the country is awaiting this film eagerly - the Indian lesbian community, which for years has maintained a silent, almost secret existence. Breaking new ground The film's protagonists are sisters-in-law, trapped in emotionally bleak marriages, who turn to each other for comfort, love and eventually, sex. Deepa Mehta: "It has caused outrage, love and confusion"Despite its vast output and long history, Indian cinema has rarely ventured into such a realm. Fire is not meant to be about gay life, but after world-wide release, as it makes its debut in India, it is sure to be provocative and challenging. Director Deepa Mehta aims to be provocative and challenging: "Some people are outraged by it, some people love it and some people are confused by it. I think it's not going to be any different in India - at least I hope not." Many of India's gay women are glad that Fire is showing in their country. The couple I spoke to, on condition they remain anonymous, have been together for more than six years. They make no secret of their relationship, but neither do they openly proclaim their sexuality. A lesbian character in the film is allowed to burn by her shamed husbandIndia, they say, has yet to come to terms with the very existence of female homosexuality. Finding a stable partner can be tough when society doesn't even acknowledge that women can be attracted to women. One said: "We live in the same neighbourhood - so I've known her over the years. We belong to the same group of friends. She had been away in Africa and I heard about her relationship there. Much later when I went up to her we became friends - and one day it just happened - it just took over." Acceptance not easy to find Now, they live together and have a wide circle of friends, some gay, most not. And they are beginning to find the confidence that is necessary to assert themselves and their identity. Some changes are tough though. "With our families we could not interact with each other as a normal couple. That did bother us. It was not a proper kind of acceptance - it was more like 'yes, you're doing it - but we don't recognise it - yet we're not saying anything bad about it,'" one said. The public in India is getting its first challenge from the painted billboards and hoardings up in major cities to advertise the film Fire. Their vivid depictions of scenes from the movie are in keeping with the Indian cinema tradition of promising more in the advertising than is delivered in the film - more sex, violence or titillation. The fact that Fire passed the tough Indian censorship process without a single cut could be seen as recognition that this is a serious film that has chosen its scenes and story line carefully. Or it could be taken as an indication that society remains ignorant or unaware of the sexual options before women. Breaking through ignorance Telephone counselling is now available in major cities, like Delhi. Until a helpline was set up, there was literally nobody for women to talk to. Cath Slugget, of the Sangini support group, says those who call are often confused and unaware. So Indian cinema-goers will be seeing a film that challenges taboos, and has some vivid portrayals of passion and violence. But Fire also makes it clear that overturning tradition can be dangerous. whatever comfort gay women might take from a sympathetic story line Fire is not a film that is likely to leave anyone here indifferent.