11/22/2017, 18.17
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Movie sparks Hindu nationalist protest, Bollywood star gets death threats

A local BJP politician offers rich reward to have actress Padukone and director Bhansali beheaded. Padmatavi’s premiere has been postponed indefinitely. Alleged romantic scenes between a 13th century Hindu queen and a Muslim invader are the cause of the controversy.

Delhi (AsiaNews) – A new Bollywood movie has sparked great controversy, with some politicians, religious leaders, and celebrities calling for it to be changed, whilst one nationalist leader going so far as to offer a reward for the murder of the main actors.

Padmatavi, by Indian director Sanjay Leela Bhansali, is an epic period drama involving two of Bollywood’s movie royalties: Deepika Padukone and Ranveer Singh. As a result of the uproar, the movie’s premiere, scheduled for 1st December, was postponed to a yet to be announced date.

The storm over the movie is not insignificant. Last week-end, a regional leader with the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) announced a reward of nearly US$ 1.5 million for anyone prepared to behead Bhansali and Padukone (pictured).

In Rajasthan, Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje waded into the controversy, saying that the movie should not be released until "necessary changes are made so that sentiments of any community are not hurt”.

Protests by nationalist politicians and religious leaders were ostensibly due to rumours that the movie included a romantic scene between the Hindu Queen Padmavati (played by Deepika Padukone) and the invading Muslim King ʿAlāʾ ud-Dīn Khaljī (played by Ranveer Singh).

During the shooting in January 2017, Hindu extremists stormed the set and physically attacked Bhansali who eventually decided to delete some scenes considered "offensive".

Yet, despite such self-censorship, the director has had to deny allegations that the movie included romantic moments between the two main characters, without much success. In the end, producers have decided to postpone the premiere without announcing a new date.

The movie itself is centred on a legendary 13th century Rajput Queen (Rani Padmini), based on Padmavat, a 16th century text written by Indian poet Malik Muhammad Jayasi. In the story, the queen is married to the Rajput king of Mewar, which the Delhi Sultanate under ʿAlāʾ ud-Dīn Khaljī wanted to conquer.

Driven by the desire to capture Queen Rani Padmini, the Muslim leader besieged Chittor Fort, the capital of Mewar. According to tradition, as the city was about to fall, the queen and other women jumped into a pyre in collective self-immolation (jauhar) to escape the dishonour of capture by the enemy.

Khaljī is clearly an historical figure, but there is little to prove that Queen Padmavati actually existed. The latter could simply be a figment of Jayasi’s imagination, even though she enjoyed at the time fame and veneration among India’s upper castes.

Director Bhansali’s queen has been harshly criticised on the grounds of false representation and distorting the facts, which have caused a wave of protests in many Indian states.

In Uttar Pradesh, police said they did not have the means and manpower to protect cinemas and ensure public safety.

As death threats mount, the government of Karnataka has refused to provide protection to actress Deepika Padukone and her family.

Ultimately, this case highlights the level of religious intolerance in a country that has already been the scene of violence by the Hindu majority against minorities, including Christians. (DS)

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