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.
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.
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.
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."
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.