The agitations by some Sikh groups against the depiction of Sikhs in the romantic comedy Singh Is Kinng has left producer Vipul Shah agitated.
Directed by Annees Bazmi, the film is about a gullible, accident prone, loveable Sikh who falls in love with Katrina Kaif, an NRI.
"My film has grossed Rs.460-480 million over the first weekend. That's more than Om Shanti Om and Welcome, which had the highest opening so far. So obviously the film has been liked. I can't please every single Sikh," Shah told IANS.
First, the Delhi Sikh Gurdwara Management Committee (DSGMC) sought a ban on the movie for allegedly "ridiculing" the Sikh community but the matter was resolved after the producer and lead actor Akshay Kumar spoke to the committee.
Then on Friday the All India Sikh Students Federation started an agitation for 'wrong' depiction of Sikhs at a theatre in Amritsar.
"Who are these agitators? This is nothing but a shortcut to fame. The boys of the Sikh Youth Federation must've thought that when Delhi's Gurdwara Committee protested, Akshay rushed to Delhi. In Amritsar, they must've thought this is their way of getting Akshay into Amritsar.
"Surely there're easier ways of getting stars' attention. And Akshay couldn't spend one year moving from city to city appeasing the imagined hurt of self-appointed champions of the Sikh community. These are people who don't respect the opinion of the highest authorities of their community who've said there's nothing objectionable in Singh Is Kinng.
"All the important and powerful bodies of the Sikh community cleared the film. What were these boys on Friday protesting about? They said they hadn't even seen the film. They just said it was an insult to Sikhism. But in what way?"
Shah feels there are professional protesters, who jump in protest against any culture-specific cinema.
"They feel somehow their culture will be threatened when films like Jodhaa Akbar and Singh Is Kinng pay homage to the people and culture of a community," said Shah, who had to face a similar problem before the release of his directorial venture Namastey London.
He had to apologise for Katrina Kaif's entry into the Ajmer shrine in a short skirt and had to remove all scenes shot in the complex.
However, Shah has more than enough reason to be happy. Apparently, on Friday 300 Sikhs saw Singh Is Kinng at Cinemax in Mumbai.
"They were doing bhangra with dhols after the screening. They told a news channel that this was the first film in 70 years of Indian cinema that had done justice to the Sikh community. What more endorsement for our motives can there be?"
Shah wants a law whereby freedom of expression cannot be curbed.
"The final authority on right and wrong in a film should be the censor board. Once the board approves all protests should be crushed with iron hands. Otherwise all of us should just fold up our production houses. I'm not disrespecting Sikh sentiments. So please stop hounding me for nothing."
Shah admits his guilt on the beard issue.
"We admit Akshay's beard should've been longer. We added a scene where Akshay says he made a mistake by trimming his beard. And in the video with Snoop Dogg during the end titles he comes with a full beard, albeit a false one.
"It'd have taken Akshay two years to grow a natural beard. We had told the Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee (SGPC) that the beard would be false, and they had agreed."
The controversy apart, the producer couldn't have been happier.
"The opening of Singh Is Kinng has been incredible. Business everywhere has been thundering. But I can only rest easy after the first two weeks. I'm glad that in spite of being a comedy Singh Is Kinng isn't vulgar.
"I gave my director Anees Bazmi the freedom to do what he likes. I only wanted him to tell a morally correct story. I didn't want to flinch while watching it with my sons."
If you are wondering why Akshay sounds uncharacteristically nasal and toned-down in Singh Is Kinng, producer Shah gives the answer.
"Akshay had a fierce cold while dubbing. There was no way we could postpone. So we used his nasal voice and Akshay even added a line in the dialogue about his character having a terrible cold.