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Courageous and unflinching, Deepa Mehta's engrossing study of a lesbian affair inter­weaves sexual repression, pressure-cooker desire, crumbling patriarchy and cultural transfor­mation in contemporary India. The tugging away of traditional structures reflects social changes and the tension of modernism occurring across the sub-continent.

Radha, the driving force behind husband Ashok's New Delhi restaurant, cohabits peace­ably, if at times uneasily, with her in-laws upstairs. Their barren, 15 year old marriage is rent asunder by the arrival of sister-in-law Sita. a confident modern young wife who poses ques­tions Radha would rather not face. Their hus­bands' complacency and neglect draws the women into a tender relationship which deto­nates into tragedy.

Though unapologetically feminist in its core sympathies, there is much more to Fire than polemical critique. Giles Nuttgens' camera mean­ders through gorgeous precincts of old Delhi; tra­ditional ceremonies and architecture (Hindi wedding processions, Ramanaya folk dramas, the Taj Mahal) are used to tremendous effect; and Fire's incendiary conclusion will not soon be forgotten by Festival audiences.