Religious Protests Claim One of Bollywood’s Biggest Films of Year
By Jyotsna Singh and Kiran Stacey
India’s culture wars have engulfed the country’s film industry, as producers have delayed releasing one of the most anticipated Bollywood films of the year amid protests from Hindu groups.
Padmavati, a period drama with a budget of $38.5m, was due to open in cinemas on December 1. The film depicts the life of a legendary 13th-14th century Hindu queen, but has sparked anger from religious groups who complain that the film shows her romantically linked to the Muslim king AlauddinKhilji.
Now Viacom 18, the studio behind the film, has announced it has “voluntarily deferred” its release, after weeks of violent demonstrations and even a death threat from a state official to the actors involved.
“We are a responsible, law-abiding corporate citizen and have the highest respect and regard for the law of the land and all our institutions and statutory bodies, including the Central Board of Film Certification,” the company said in a statement.
“We have faith that we will soon obtain the requisite clearances to release the film. We will announce the revised release date of the film in due course.”
The struggle to define India’s history has become increasingly bitter in recent years as rightwing activists, including many in the ruling Bharatiya Janata party, seek to highlight the country’s Hindu roots and downplay the successes of Muslim rulers.
Earlier this year, state officials in Rajasthan announced that school students would soon be taught that the Rajput warrior MaharanaPratap defeated the army of Mughal emperor Akbar in battle in 1576, despite evidence showing Pratap fled the battlefield.
Meanwhile, a war of words has also broken out over the Taj Mahal, the country’s most famous monument, after SangeetSom, a local lawmaker, said it had been built by “traitors" who wanted to eliminate all Hindus.
The row over Padmavati has become particularly violent, however. In January activists vandalized the film set and attacked Sanjay LeelaBhansali, the director.
The controversy was then reignited after one of the film’s songs was released, the video for which shows the queen dancing in public with an exposed midriff. Last week a mob reportedly vandalized a cinema when the Padmavati trailer was showing.
Suraj Pal Amu, a senior official for the BJP in the state of Haryana, on Sunday issued a death threat against MrBhansali and DeepikaPadukone, its main star, offering a Rs100m reward for anyone who beheaded them. The BJP has since demanded an explanation for his comments.
Many commentators say the row is deliberately being inflamed by politicians who are looking to motivate voters ahead of the next round of regional elections next month.
"The project of making India a Hindu nation started more than 90 years ago by the RSS [a Hindu nationalist group linked to the BJP],” said HarbansMukhia, a retired professor of history at Jawaharlal Nehru University. “But this is the first time that they have the state power, and the administrative power, to influence the social and political narrative.
“They are looking for anything they can lay their hands on to target Muslims. It is not about the past, it is about present . . . They want to demonize Muslims to consolidate Hindu votes.” – Financial Times