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.