Padmaavat: India clashes as controversial film opens

An Indian security guard stands outside a cinema, which is not screening Bollywood film Padmaavat due to threats of violence by Hindu hardliners, in Allahabad on January 25, 2018.Image copyright

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Police and guards have been deployed to keep order

Hardline Hindus angered by a Bollywood film have threatened cinema-goers and clashed with police in northern India.

Reports say a cinema owner in Uttar Pradesh was attacked. Several other theatres in the state and in neighbouring Bihar were also targeted.

Hardline Hindu groups allege the film Padmaavat is disrespectful of their culture by depicting a romance between a Hindu queen and a Muslim king.

The producers deny this. The release was delayed for two months by protests.

Many theatres across India have said that they will not screen the film, fearing further violence. But despite the threats, the film still opened in 5,000 cinemas in many parts of the country.

Some cinema-goers in Delhi said there was nothing controversial in the movie.

“All the ruckus that is going on is uncalled for,” one viewer told the BBC after watching the film.

Media captionDeepika Padukone plays Queen Padmavati in the film

The Supreme Court rejected a bid by four states that wanted the film banned for security reasons, saying it was their responsibility to ensure law and order.

On Wednesday, footage of mobs attacking a bus carrying students in Gurgaon, near Delhi, caused outrage.

It is unclear why the mob attacked the vehicle, which was clearly marked as a school bus. A video of the attack showed scared students ducking under the seat as the bus was pelted with stones.

No children were injured in the incident, but protesters burned a number of other buses, and have also vandalised cinemas over the last few days.

What is the dispute about?

Bollywood stars Deepika Padukone and Ranveer Singh play the lead roles.

The film tells the story of 14th Century Muslim emperor Alauddin Khilji’s attack on a kingdom after he was smitten by the beauty of its queen, Padmavati, who belonged to the Hindu Rajput caste.

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Hindu groups and a Rajput caste organisation allege that the movie includes a scene in which the Muslim king dreams of becoming intimate with the Hindu queen.

But director Sanjay Leela Bhansali has said the film does not feature such a “dream sequence” at all.

But rumours of such a scene were enough to enrage right-wing Hindu groups.

Protests are much ado about nothing

Divya Arya, Women Affairs, BBC World service, Delhi

The film Padmaavat does not depict a romance between a Hindu queen and a Muslim king, as has been alleged by protesters over the last few months.

Neither is there a dream sequence between the two, nor does the Hindu queen Padmavati dance in front of strangers or wear outfits that are revealing.

In fact, the outrage against the film should be directed at the glamorised portrayal of mass self-immolation, or “jauhar”, led by Padmavati. She and hundreds of women take their lives by jumping into a fire to escape being captured by the Muslim king.

The women’s desperate end is celebrated and glorified in a violent build-up to the film’s climax, again emphasising the importance of the community and a husband’s honour over the life of a woman.

Is the film historically accurate?

While Khilji is a historical figure, historians believe that Padmavati is fictional.

The name of the queen, and the plot of the film, are believed to be based on an epic poem, Padmaavat, by 16th Century poet Malik Muhammad Jayasi.

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Some cinema owners are not screening the film as they fear more violence

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The film has sparked angry protests for months

The poem extols the virtue of Padmavati who committed jauhar to protect her honour from Khilji who had killed her husband, the Rajput king, in a battle.

Jauhar, the mass self-immolation by women to avoid enslavement and rape by foreign invaders, is believed to have originated some 700 years ago among the ruling class or Rajputs in India.

Women in the community set themselves alight after their men were defeated in battles to avoid being taken by the victors. But it came to be seen as a measure of wifely devotion in later years.