on September 06, 1996 by Shlomo Schwartzberg
   Deepa Mehta rebounds from her last misfire, the little-seen Jessica Tandy/Bridget Fonda starrer "Camilla," with a much better take on a friendship between two women. Set in contemporary Bombay, "Fire" is a probing and sensitive look at the continuing clash between traditional and modern Indian values, typified by the strong relationship between Radha (Shabana Azmi), an unhappily married older woman, and Sita (Nandita Das), a young and vibrant addition to the household who stirs her in ways she has not experienced before.    Unlike Mira Nair's "Kama Sutra," "Fire" is imbued with real passion and conviction. Though shot in English, it never feels stilted; Mehta's direction and plotting are pleasingly subtle. She even throws in some effective comic bits featuring Ranjit Chowdhry as a perpetually horny boarder. The other men in the film, such as Sita's faithless husband Jatin (Jaaved Jaaferi), are given their due, too. In its quiet way, "Fire" packs an emotional wallop.    Starring Shabana Azmi, Nandita Das and Ranjit Chowdhry. Directed and written by Deepa Mehta. Produced by Bobby Bedi and Deepa Mehta. A Zeitgeist release. Drama. Unrated. Running time: 104 min. Screened at the Toronto fest. Opens 8/22 NY; nationally throughout fall.
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