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India: Zealots Close Down Lesbian Movie

Storm 12 Theatres Across the Nation

Fear Curiosity in Dissatisfied Married Women

By Rex Wockner
International News Report

Hundreds of female zealots from India's Hindu Shiv Sena party stormed at least 12 cinemas across the nation in early December and intimidated managers into suspending screenings of the lesbian-themed film Fire. fire1.jpg - 18.35 K Shabana Azmi

The demonstrators smashed windows and snack counters and ripped down posters. Among the ransacked facilities was New Delhi's prestigious Regal theater.

A few days later the film was "sent back for recertifying to the censorship board," said Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, junior minister of state for information and broadcasting. "We will wait for their comments," he said.

The movie had played to packed houses during the three weeks it was shown. It depicts two sisters-in-law who are unhappy in their arranged marriages and turn to each other for love.

fire4.jpg - 45.68 K "Women seeking satisfaction from other women is alien to Indian culture," said Bombay Shiv Sena activist Meena Kulkarni. "This film poisons our women. It makes them curious about something immoral."

Shabana Azmi, one of the film's stars and a member of parliament, responded: "One has the right to dissent but violence of this kind is not the answer. This is a matter of breaking the law. The censorship board had approved the film."

The other lead actress, Nandita Das, said, "The censors passed the film without a cut, the public gave their verdict and we should not undermine the intelligence of the people."

Leading gay activist Ashok Row Kavi commented: "Our criminal laws on homosexuality were bequeathed to us by the British, who had a Christian view of things. ... 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."

fire3.jpg - 19.25 K Nandita Das On December 6, about 400 women, including Fire Director Deepa Mehta, picketed a theater in New Delhi's Connaught Place demanding that screenings of the film be resumed.

"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," Mehta said.

"It is the responsibility of the government to demonstrate to the citizens that their fundamental rights cannot be trampled upon by criminal acts of violence. The constitution guarantees everyone [the] right to expression. Forceful shutdown of the film by a handful ... is a blot on the freedom of expression."

Mehta also petitioned the Supreme Court demanding that screenings of the film be protected from attacks.

fire2.jpg - 43.68 K Protests against the movie continued December 12 when about 100 Shiv Sena party members demonstrated outside the home of Bombay actor Dilip Kumar -- a vocal supporter of the film -- wearing only their underwear.

The protesters said they stripped down because that was the only language Kumar would understand.
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Fire: Official Site
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