India is currently in the grips of a controversy surrounding the movie Fire that makes America's flap over Martin Scorsese's The Last Temptation Of Christ pale in comparison. Originally banned, the 1996 film had been playing to some success in Indian metropolitan areas this year until it caught the attention of the religious fundamentalist group Shiv Sainiks. Organizers then took to the streets and raided theaters in which Fire was playing, tearing down posters and otherwise disrupting its ability to be seen. Receiving the tacit support of the Indian government, much to the consternation of Canadian-based director Deepa Mehta, the group's attack has ultimately proven unpopular with much of India. In many ways, all this makes for a more interesting story than the marginally interesting film itself. In Fire, its title a reference to a Hindu legend and not its incendiary nature, Nandita Das plays a young bride who, days after entering her marriage, discovers it doomed to lovelessness. Her shopkeep husband is more concerned with his Chinese girlfriend, and her only activities involve helping out with his business, tending to his mute, invalid mother, and waiting for pregnancy. In a development expected by no one, least of all the traditionally minded Das, she falls in love with her live-in sister-in-law (Shabana Azmi), who has long since given up on finding love. Fire openly questions Indian tradition, and it loads the dice in its favor. Dramatically simple, Fire has only two sympathetic characters: the two lovers whose relationship, while portrayed in sympathetic, romantic terms, never seems plausible. But Fire's need to break new ground may excuse its clumsiness, and its far richer portrayal of a culture torn between its past and its post-colonial Western drift makes it more involving than it might have otherwise been. If nothing else, Fire is designed to provoke questions and spark debate. Mission accomplished, but, despite a heartfelt tone that pervades its every moment, it doesn't do much else.