Security fears as controversial Bollywood epic opens

Right wing fringe group threatens 'Padmaavat'

Andreas Rentz/Getty Images

Deepika Padukone

(CNN) - The opening of a controversial Bollywood blockbuster was overshadowed Thursday by threats of violence from a right wing Hindu fringe group objecting to the movie's portrayal of a mythical Hindu queen.

Authorities across several Indian states stepped up security at movie theaters, while a number of cinema owners said they would not screen "Padmaavat," the movie at the center of the storm, because of fears of attacks.

"The law and order situation is not favorable," Deepak Asher, President of the Multiplex Association of India, a local industry association, told CNN.

A number of movie theaters in the Indian states of Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Goa have decided not to play the movie, Asher said.

Meanwhile, some schools in a Gurgaon, a Delhi suburb that is home to the offices of numerous international companies, remained shut Thursday, amid concerns about the safety of students.

The decision came after a school bus full of students came under attack by a mob of protesters on Wednesday, with Gurgaon Police Commissioner Sandeep Khirwar telling CNN that they hurled stones at the vehicle. No students were hurt, and 18 people have been arrested in connection with the incident, he confirmed.

Controversy snowballs

The controversy erupted in November, amid rumors that the movie, which is based on a 16th century poem, featured a romantic dream sequence involving the Hindu queen, portrayed in the film by Bollywood star Deepika Padukone, and an invading Muslim king.

Despite the filmmakers repeatedly denying the existence of such a scene, the claims touched off angry protests.

There were threats of violence against Padukone and director Sanjay Leela Bhansali, with a member of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, Suraj Pal Amu, offering a reward to anyone who beheaded the actress.

As the controversy snowballed, the filmmakers delayed the release date by two months and moved to make a number of changes to the film to mollify the protesters, including changing the title.

Yet the storm over the movie refuses to die down.

Members of a fringe Hindu group called the Karni Sena have said they remain opposed to the film, which was cleared for release by India's Supreme Court earlier this week.

Quashing moves by a number of state governments to pre-emptively ban the film, India's top court ordered authorities to ensure its release. But the Karni Sena has remained adamant in its opposition.

"[Our] community is hurt by the one-sided intervention of the Supreme Court. We will continue with our protests until the movie is banned," Mahipal Singh Makrana, spokesman for the group, told CNN.

Demand for apology

On Wednesday, Karni Sena members held protests in several cities across India. Some turned violent, including one on the outskirts of Delhi where they set fire to a public bus.

There was also unrest over in Ahmedabad, the capital of the Western Indian state of Gujarat, where numerous vehicles were torched, and several shops and movie theaters were vandalized.

Among the group's demands is an apology from Prasoon Joshi, the head of India's film censor board, which certified the film for release.

With Joshi due to appear later this week at a major literary festival in the Karin Sena's home city of Jaipur, the capital of Rajasthan state, the group has hinted at further violence.

"Until he apologizes, we will not allow him to enter Rajasthan," said Makrana, the Sena's spokesperson.

Copyright 2018 by CNN NewSource. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.