Hundreds arrested in violent protests across several states a day before the release of controversial Bollywood movie. The right-wing Karni Sena has warned theatre owners against the screening of the movie.

Indian members of the right-wing Karni Sena take part in a protest against forthcoming Bollywood film 'Padmaavat' in Ahmedabad on January 23, 2018.
Indian members of the right-wing Karni Sena take part in a protest against forthcoming Bollywood film 'Padmaavat' in Ahmedabad on January 23, 2018. (AFP)

Right-wing Hindu groups in India stepped up protests on Wednesday against the release of a controversial Bollywood film Padmaavat, as several states boosted police patrols a day after the Supreme Court refused to allow bans on the movie.

Groups critical of the film, set to be released on Thursday, have accused its director, Sanjay Leela Bhansali, of distorting history by portraying a Muslim ruler as the "lover" of the Hindu Queen Padmavati of the Rajput warrior clan.

The filmmakers deny the accusation.

Violence over the film, Padmaavat, reached the outskirts of India's capital just as New Delhi began to receive southeast Asian leaders for a major summit on Thursday, to be followed the next day by a parade and celebrations of India's Republic Day.

School bus vandalised

Television broadcast images of gangs of young men, their faces concealed by swathes of cloth, throwing stones in the streets of Gurgaon, 30km from New Delhi, while the hollowed-out shell of a bus smouldered nearby.

The protesters carried sticks and caused minor injuries to 14 people, said B S Sandhu, a senior police official, adding that police had detained 15 protesters.

Controversial stories

Indian films that touch upon the historical relationships of Hindus, India's majority religion, and Muslims are often controversial.

The film first ran into opposition in January 2017 when a Hindu right-wing group Rajput Karni Sena attacked its director and vandalised the set during filming in Rajasthan.

In November last year, a member of India's ruling BJP, Suraj Pal Amu, offered $1.5 million to anyone who beheaded the lead actress Deepika Padukone and the director.

Padmaavat, changed from Padmavati after protests, was initially due to hit screens in December. 

But producers Viacom18 Motion Pictures delayed the release following protests sparked by speculation that it depicts a romantic liaison between the Hindu queen and the 13th and 14th century Muslim ruler Alauddin Khilji.

Khalji, from the second ruling dynasty of the Muslim sultanate of Delhi, was of Turkish origin, and is known for thwarting six Mongol invasions on India. 

Politicians and several of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-ruled states had threatened to ban the film for distorting historical facts, even though historians say the queen, Padmavati, is a mythical character.

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Posted by Madhavan Narayanan on Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Mumbia beefs up security

In the financial capital of Mumbai, police have boosted security at all theatres screening the film, and detained more than 100 members of Karni Sena.

Police had to open fire to disperse crowds on Tuesday night as protests against the film turned increasingly violent, with vandalism around multiplexes in the western state of Gujarat and dozens of motorcycles being set on fire.

Police have arrested 20 men involved, said Kalpesh Patel, a police officer in the state's key industrial city of Ahmedabad.

The protests are expected to continue around the country.

Indian theatres succumb to pressure

"We have decided not to play the movie in any of our properties in Gujarat and Rajasthan," Deepak Asher, director of Inox multiplexes, India's second largest theatre chain, referring to the two states hit by the worst protests.

"Our primary concern is the security of our employees and audiences. I think this is a decision that almost every theatre owner in these two states has taken," he added.

In the central state of Chhattisgarh, dozens of members of the Karni Sena staged protests and burned an effigy of Bhansali on Tuesday, Rakesh Singh Bais of the community group Sarwa Kshatriya Mahasabha.

Protecting "Hindu pride"

Police in northwestern Rajasthan have enforced tight security for protests planned by the Karni Sena and other Rajput groups, its police chief, O P Galhotra, said.

"We have been talking to the leaders of the Karni Sena and they don't want to end their protest," Galhotra added. 

"We have decided to allow them to hold small protests, and have made adequate arrangements to maintain law and order."

Anyone trying to depict history as fiction will have to pay a price for their mistake, said Rajvansh Singh, an official of the Karni Sena in the city of Chittorgarh in Rajasthan, who called himself the custodian of respect for Rajput women.

"We will not allow the movie to be released," he said.

"Queen Padmini is like our goddess, no one will be allowed to insult our goddess and our Hindu pride."

Source: TRT World