When people come to know I’m an Indian feminist (from India even! That, somehow, is always an extra bonus), after a quick round of, “What do you think about child marriage/sex-selective abortions/sati,” inevitably the question of the film Fire comes up. Hilariously, people are offended that I don’t quite have an opinion or any interest in assessing whether Fire is “really” queer or it’s simply a story about loneliness (anyone who has ever been a token feminist knows what a blasphemy it is to not have an opinion on the 0.3 topics your opinion is demanded on), and that I’d rather talk about the events the film spurred on.
Fire was cleared by the Indian Film Censor Board but was banned by religious right-wing groups because the film had two women having sex with each other. The justification was that “Indian women don’t do thesetypes of things,” which led many queer (and otherwise) feminists to protest with placards that read “Indian and lesbian”—as if this co-existence had to necessairily be spelled out. This is no small feat, especially not in the late ’90s, a full decade before most overt public action taken on the Section 377 debacle, and as someone who has personal stakes in the queer movement brewing in this country, it’s infinitely reassuring to see that moment alive in national memory. However, Fire also comes with another memorable event—Bal Thackeray, the leader of the right-wing Shiv Sena party, asked Deepa Mehta to change the names of the two protagonists to Muslim names for the ban to be lifted. Luckily for us, Deepa Mehta stood her ground and the Queer/Feminist/Left movements lauded themselves for being so progressive. A frame was thus born: seeing the feminist queer movement as inherently radical. (A note: The films and text I’ve chosen are not by any means a representation of the whole movement—for this particular column I haven’t looked at any feminist gay films for instance, so do consider these examples as individual texts rather than placemats for a whole population.)
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