NEW DELHI/MUMBAI – Right-wing Hindu groups in India stepped up protests on Wednesday against the release of the 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 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 the Republic Day.
Security for the parade showcasing India’s military might, which is to be attended by ten leaders from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, has been tightened more than in previous years.
Television broadcast images of gangs of young men, their faces concealed by swathes of cloth, throwing stones in the streets of Gurgaon, 30 km (19 miles) 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.
“We will not tolerate any violence in the name of protests against a movie,” Sandhu added. “Sporadic rioting did take place but no one will be allowed to protest now.”
Indian films that touch upon the historical relationships of Hindus, India’s majority religion, and Muslim leaders are often controversial.
In the financial capital of Mumbai, police have boosted security at all theatres screening the film, and detained more than 100 members of protest groups, such as the conservative Sri Rajput Karni Sena, as a precaution, a senior police official said.
Police are also closely monitoring social media, he added.
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.
“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, told Reuters, 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 Chhattisgarh, dozens of members of the Rajput community staged protests and burned an effigy of Bhansali on Tuesday, Rakesh Singh Bais of the community group Sarwa Kshatriya Mahasabha told Reuters.
Police in 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.”