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Firebrand

Movie review by
Renee Schonfeld, Common Sense Media
Firebrand Movie Poster Image
Drama from India with sexual situations, mature themes.
  • NR
  • 2019
  • 116 minutes

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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Strongly supports confronting past tragedies and then moving forward. Promotes forging loving male-female relationships, forgiveness, healing, making peace with and overcoming past adversity. Focuses on ongoing nightmare of sexual assault as a woman tries to overcome its crippling effects. Reveals consequences of female's false accusations of men.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Leading female is determined, compassionate, courageous, all while dealing with long-term effects of traumatic assault. Central male character is forgiving, patient, loving, fully committed to his wife. In various family court cases, with one exception, men are portrayed as villains and females are victims, trying to survive. In the outlier, a wife exploits, persecutes her husband. 

Violence

Multiple flashback sequences depict a brutal rape. In a manic state, a woman stabs herself with glass shards. A lengthy sequence in which a frenzied woman violently attacks a stuffed toy.

Sex

Sexuality and sexual assault are primary elements: rape scenes, sexual nightmares, heightened fear of male aggression. Couple attempts sexual intercourse. One lengthy sequence involves sensual foreplay, partial nudity. References to homosexuality.

Language

A few profanities: "bastard," "f---ing," "ass."

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Some drinking and drunkenness.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Firebrand is a drama set in India, partly in English, partly using subtitles. Produced by Priyanka Chopra, it's Netflix's first Marathi film. The movie revolves around sexual politics: victimization, false accusations, and the challenges of recovery. The story, about a successful female divorce lawyer who was the victim of a tragic sexual assault many years earlier, contains multiple flashbacks and surreal nightmares that depict that earlier rape. Sexual activity in the present includes sensual foreplay, aborted attempts at intimacy, and lots of sexual discussion. In addition to the violent rape scenes, there's a bloody incident (spoiler alert) during which a woman maniacally stabs herself in the arm. Viewers can expect a few profanities ("bastard," "f--k," "ass") as well as heightened verbal conflict. Men are often portrayed as aggressors, women as victims trying to extricate themselves from destructive relationships. Characters drink alcohol in some scenes, sometimes to excess. 

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What's the story?

Sunanda (Usha Jadhav) is a champion of women's rights in FIREBRAND. A highly successful divorce lawyer in Mumbai, Sunanda astutely protects the women she represents, determined to press for their rights and fair treatment. At home, married to the compassionate and gentle Madhav (Girish Kulkarni), Sunanda still suffers from flashbacks and nightmares of a brutal sexual attack years earlier. Her ferocity for her clients shows how committed she is. Her feelings of inadequacy show how damaged she is. Unable to fully engage in physical intimacy, Sunanda seeks help, Madhav always at her side. When a wealthy client determined to divorce her husband and punish him for "monstrous" misbehavior hires Sunanda, her lawyerly skills come into direct conflict with her instincts. The two stories interconnect, forcing Sunanda to re-evaluate her choices, confront her demons, and try to free herself from her past. 

Is it any good?

Ardent performances from the leading characters, along with a vivid portrait of modern India as it mirrors America and its sexual politics, make this story of one woman's odyssey very compelling. Usha Jadhav and Girish Kulkarni play all the right notes as a husband and wife in the midst of life-changing events. The plights of Sunanda's legal clients, however, are conventional and one-dimensional. In all but one case, the husbands are scoundrels; the put-upon wives triumph. In the exceptional case, the tables are turned. It's in bringing that case to its conclusion in tandem with Sunanda's and Madhav's story that Firebrand leaps toward a resolution that, though artfully executed, comes out of nowhere, and truly strains the audience's sympathy for a character so textured and winning until that moment. It was a risky choice. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how movies set in other countries have special value for audiences. In Firebrand, what similarities and/or differences did you notice in the power base between men and women in the United States and in the Indian culture? 

  • Were you surprised by the events leading up to the film's conclusion? What message were the filmmakers attempting to deliver in the sequence between the heroine and her client's ex-husband? Do you agree with that message? How did you feel about her husband's response? 

  • With regard to the #MeToo movement, some keen observers have said that "women's accusations must be taken seriously, but not necessarily believed." What does that mean? How did Firebrand address the issue?

  • What is the meaning of the term "PTSD" (often used in conjunction with military events)? How did Sunanda's behavior indicate that she was suffering from PTSD?

Movie details

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