Contradictions or Syncretism? The Politics of Female-Female Desire in Deepa Mehta’s Fire and Ligy J. Pullappally’s Sancharram (The Journey)

  • Oliver Ross


The importance of Deepa Mehta’s film Fire for the burgeoning gay and lesbian rights movement in India cannot be overstated. Many commentators1 locate the beginnings of a public dialogue surrounding lesbianism in the historical moment of the film’s release and dissemination in late 1998 and early 1999, which was marked by acrimonious debates surrounding its representation of Female-Female desire. Yet affirmations of the national significance of Fire, whether made by members of the Left or the Right, frequently elided the demographic limitations of its politics. Just as the film focuses on the Anglophone Indian middle classes, so was its English-language form inaccessible to much of the population. Shohini Ghosh has persuasively identified a similarly exclusionary logic surrounding the reception of Mehta’s films in Euro-America: “A less careful reading of the Fire and Water controversies runs the risk of being interpreted as a tussle between a modern (progressive) text and a traditional (regressive society), and a majority of mainstream critics in the West (particularly in the US and Canada) saw them that way.”2 Significantly, Fire had already been circulating on the international festival circuit for some two years prior to its release in India. If it initially marketed itself as a window into “oppressive” Hindu customs from outside India, once inside it insinuated that the English language was the proper vehicle for critique and progress, contributing to the developmental and sometimes exclusively Anglophone taxonomies of the gay and lesbian movements that succeeded it.


Indian Culture Gender Nonconformity Binary Opposition Sexual Politics Hindu Tradition 
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© Oliver Ross 2016

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