118 years of Trust Stamped Impressions
THE TRIBUNEsaturday plus
Saturday, January 16, 1999


Regional Vignettes



The third angle to Fire controversy
By Reeta Sharma

The film Fire has created enough fire for Deepa Mehta to warm herself with undeserved name and fame. I am sure she must be secretly and thoroughly enjoying the mention and appearance of her name and face in the print and electronic media. I wish I could have avoided giving her space in my column. However, I am provoked to write neither about the so- called "freedom of expression", nor because I want to hold aloft the banner of "fanatic keepers of Hinduism" in the name of Indian culture. My concern is purely from a third angle about la affaire Fire.

It is an angle which people are afraid to express for fear of being branded as part of either the Bajrang Brigade or the Shiv Sena; for fear of being accused as undemocratic or not being progressive. When I finished watching Fire, I decided to forget all about it. It was a very crudely directed film in which everyone had acted brilliantly. But my wish to forget it was not granted. Hell broke loose. Bajrang Dal and Shiv Sainiks had decided to compete with Deepa Mehta to freely express crudeness, indulge in cruelty on our sensitive minds and as violently trample our privacy as she did.

What is Fire all about? It glamourises lesbianism and justifies it as the only alternative in suffocating marriages. But let me not dwell on details of the film. I am more keen to share my stamped impressions about the third view. People in this category have full faith and respect for "freedom of expression". Remember, some women in Europe wanted to go about fully naked everywhere claiming it to be their personal right to freedom? But even the westernised and highly awakened Europe had not allowed it, calling it absurd and perverted.

I would not say that lesbianism is absurd or perverted. I concede it exists in every society. But it is there only in an negligible percentage. It’s not rampant. Nor is it such a burning problem that we need to deal with it in a full-length film. But what do you do with people who are desperate to seek attention and recognition? They not only glamourise such subjects but even title a Hindi film in English calling it Fire and not Aag, for the sake of effect.

One has grown up admiring and loving great artistes like Dilip Kumar, writers like Javed Akhtar and talented actresses like Shabana Azmi. I am, in fact, full of reverence for their blessed talents. But, come on, Javed Sahib and Shabana, we are now grown up enough to look beyond your talent and see through your games. Dear Shabana, your proximity with Sushma Swaraj has not gone unnoticed, which reportedly got censor clearance for the film. You have established yourself as the best actress in the country beyond any shadow of doubt. Then why be greedy for more awards even at the cost of sensationalism?

Javed Sahib would be respected much more if he went to Gujarat, holding a banner for hapless Christians than for his wife alone. And, I think, poor Dilip Kumar has simply been used in this game by friends like Javed Akhtar and had to face a brutal and loathsome accusation of being called a "Pakistani".

If only I were a judge, I could have put these obnoxious accusers into jail for hurting the sentiments of crores of Indians who love Dilip Kumar. I would not give him to Pakistan even if they were to offer me "Occupied Kashmir" in exchange.

Protests against the Bajrang Dal and Sainiks are fully justified.I, myself, through this column, protest against their violent attacks on people’s freedom to watch whichever film they want to. If they do not like the film, or are disgusted with the glamourisation and blatant display of what lesbianism is all about, they ought to choose a peaceful, democratic manner of protest.

Many people feel films on such subjects should be made but not in a country like ours. We still have a long, long way to go before we reach a stage where people can digest and understand such dimensions in any society. We are ridden with illiteracy and ignorance to such an extent that we would only be adding to the existing chaos. Advocates of the first angle, holding the banner of "freedom of expression", may find my afore mentioned statement contradictory. To them my answer is that we cannot show a film on sex to a 10-year-old. The child’s brain would only get distorted and disturbed it is not fully aware and educated on the subject. Another argument forwarded by this school of thought is that people like me are closing their eyes to reality, and that today’s children know everything. Sorry. This is too generalised a statement. Lakhs of not only children but even adults are not aware of the existence of such aberrations in our society. What do we gain by telling them? We horrify and sensationalise them and, in all probability, give them a cue to indulge in it themselves.

Tomorrow, in the name of "freedom of expression", another desperate director would venture out to make a film on incest. Here again these people snub me saying, "What is wrong with that? Does it not exist?"I think arguments will not take us far. Let us respect freedom of expression. I strongly feel it is the media’s duty to exercise self-restraint. We have to see as to who is our audience or readership. We have to respect every individual’s freedom. If it is your desire to make films on such subjects, what about the desire of people like me who do not wish to expose young minds to such material? Our desires are clashing. So let us find a via media.

There is a third view beyond the frenzy of the fanatics and the cunning use of the famous and elite. The section which holds this view would continue protesting silently, peacefully and democratically in the interest of the large number of people.

New Year greetings

Of the hundreds of New Year greetings cards that I have received this year, only one caught my attention because of its theme. It was mailed by the Punjab Health Systems Corporation managing director S.S. Channy. It is a specially designed card in honour of women. Before you jump to a conclusion that he was, perhaps, being clever, let me tell you that Channy was only propagating the philosophy and message of Guru Nanak Devji, the great visionary, who had said So kyon manda akhiye, jit jamme rajan (Why abuse the womanhood which gives birth to great people?). Mind you, Guru Nanak gave woman an equal status and extolled their virtues, which Channy has put in print.

What Channy has done is an imaginative card which depicts a young, smiling girl child, encircled by sketches of some of the great women, who have contributed to the society. They include Lata Mangeshkar, Amrita Pritam, Kalpana Chawla, P.T. Usha, Kiran Bedi et al. The young girl, in this symbolic fashion, is guided to follow the footsteps of these great Indian women. The card, indeed, is a touching compliment to women; thank you, Channy, on behalf of all women.

This feature was published on January 9, 1999back

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