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Monday, December 7, 1998 Published at 05:04 GMT


World: South Asia

Film star slams lesbian movie withdrawal

Protesters have torn down posters for the film

A leading actress in the controversial Indian film Fire, Shabana Azmi, has condemned as "an outrage" the Indian government's decision to withdraw the film from circulation and return it to the censors to re-assess their decision to approve it.


Shabana Azmi interviewed on BBC Asia Today
In an exclusive interview with the BBC, Ms Azmi, who is also a member of parliament, said the government's action "makes a mockery" of the Indian censors' independence and was politically motivated.

Fire, the story of two sisters-in-law trapped in unhappy marriages who turn to each other for comfort and eventually begin a lesbian relationship has received widespread critical acclaim.

Controversial subject


[ image: Shabana Azmi: Movie star and member of parliament]
Shabana Azmi: Movie star and member of parliament
But it's controversial subject has also made it the subject of denunciation from militant Hindus.

Three weeks ago Indian censors passed the film for exhibition in what Ms Azmni said was an indication that the traditionally reserved body "had finally come of age."

But in the last few days the film has come under attack from the militant Hindu group Shiv Sena which says it is anti-Hindu and damaging to Indian culture. The president of the group, which is allied to the governing Hindu nationalist BJP, says it sends "the wrong message" to Indian society.

Political campaign

Shiv Sena activists have even attacked a number of cinemas in Delhi showing the film, whilst others have refused to screen it fearing they will open themselves to similar treatment. The furore caused the government to withdraw the film saying it had "caused considerable public resentment."


[ image: The subject of lesbianism is a controversial one for Indian cinema]
The subject of lesbianism is a controversial one for Indian cinema
Ms Azmi said she believes the protests are part of an orchestrated campaign to keep the right-wing Hindu nationalist ideology of the BJP in the news after a poor performance in recent elections.

She said found it "ironic" that the people "who say they want to protect Indian culture are the very people who are attacking Indian culture, which is basically pluralistic and celebrates plural values."

Ms Azmi said it would be "a great pity" if, on re-examination, the Indian censor decided to cut the film and condemned state and government officials who have expressed support for the protester's action for "encouraging lawlessness."

Homosexuality is rarely discussed in India, much less in Indian movies which are usually all-singing, all-dancing action-romances.

Ms Azmi said the Shiv Sena's allegations that the institution of marriage was threatened by encouraging lesbian relationships were unfounded and she thought the film could help to bring about "a climate of sensitivity" in India about the issues brought up in the film.



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05 Dec 98 | South Asia
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