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Padmaavat releases to cancelled shows, low footfall as protests rage across north India

Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Padmaavat is facing violent protests led by the Shri Rajput Karni Sena which alleges that the film distorts history and hurts the sentiments of the Rajput community.

india Updated: Jan 25, 2018 23:19 IST
HT Correspondents
HT Correspondents
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
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Policemen stand guard on Thursday inside a Varanasi cinema hall screening Padmaavat. (IANS)

Cinema halls in several states did not screen Padmaavat as the controversial film on legendary queen Padmini opened across the country on Thursday amid the Karni Sena’s national bandh call evoking a poor response.

While the film’s screening was stalled by theatre owners in Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and Rajasthan fearing violence, it was shown in many cinema halls in Uttar Pradesh and Haryana amid tight security. In other states, the film opened without incident.

Meanwhile, the Supreme Court agreed to hear a contempt petition on Monday against the states where the film was not screened while the Film Certification Appellate Tribunal dismissed an appeal by the Jauhar Smriti Sansthan seeking a stay on the movie’s release saying it distorted historical facts. The court admitted the contempt petition against the four states and the Shree Rajpur Karni Sena. On January 18, the Supreme Court had set aside the ban on the film by the states of Madhya Pradesh, Haryana, Rajasthan and Gujarat.

Trade analyst Atul Mohan said he was hopeful about Padmaavat’s good run at the box office. “It can be a hit because people are liking the film. They are posting their comments on social media. Reviews are mostly positive. It has the potential to do well despite the ban. People are curious about all the noise around it,” he said. The film opened for paid previews on Wednesday and earned ~5 crore. Mohan believes it’s a good collection.

“The numbers are decent because the film had only two-three shows in paid previews.”

Thursday was calmer than Wednesday when widespread violence by members of Rajput groups was reported from Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh resulting in schools being closed in Gurgaon and Noida. In Gurgaon, people were greeted with signboards saying Padmaavat’s screening had been “cancelled”, a day after a school bus was attacked by a mob.

Police reported sporadic incidents of road and rail blockades and a shutdown in some towns of Rajasthan, Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh having a high proportion of Rajput population.

About two dozen shops were vandalised in Udaipur and Karni Sena took out a bike rally in Jaipur whereas the administration allowed only entry of tourists in Chittorgarh Fort, the so-called home of Padmini. “Barring a few incidents in Chittorgarh, Udaipur, Dungarpur and Banswara, the situation is under control,” said additional director general of police NRK Reddy.

“Our protest against the film is continuing. The Shree Rajput Karni Sena took out a bike rally in Jaipur and similar protests took place in other areas also,” said Mahipal Makrana, president of the Karni Sena, the little known group that has accused Bhansali of portraying the queen in poor light. In Uttarakhand, the screening happened without any trouble as protesters did not show up at cinema halls in Dehradun, where adequate police security was provided. Additional director general of police (law and order) Ashok Kumar said they had declared a policy of zero tolerance towards violence.

Police personnel stand guard at the entrance of a cinema hall scheduled to screen Padmaavat in New Delhi on Thursday. (AFP)

In other northern states, Haryana was the most tense with cinema owners in many towns and cities such as Sonepat, Karnal and Rohtak not screening the movie. However, there was no report of violence.

Cinema owners screened the film in Lucknow as armed policemen were stationed at vantage points and fire tenders waited in readiness in case of trouble. Only in a few towns such as Gorakhpur the movie was not screened.

In Bihar, Karni Sena members blocked roads at more than half-a-dozen places and stopped train movement at Chapra, Nalanda and Gaya despite police ensuring cinema hall owners that adequate security would be provided. In neighbouring Jharkhand, the movie was screened despite some protests.

In southern states, the film was screened amid security without any problem except in Coimbatore where protesters stalled the movie in a few cinema halls. In Maharashtra, the movie was shown in all theatres.

In Gujarat, the bandh called by the Karni Sena evoked a tepid response with educational institutions, offices and markets open in most parts of the state.

In Mehsana city, the police said they lobbed two tear gas shells when a mob which tried to block a road and shut shops near Modhera Cross Roads. No one was injured in the incident, they said.

Over 20,000 policemen as well as paramilitary personnel were deployed across the state to thwart any attempt to disturb peace, the police said.

In Uttar Pradesh’s temple town Varanasi, a man attempted to immolate himself but was stopped from doing so. In Madhya Pradesh, educational institutions remained open but commercial establishments were closed in places such as Indore, Ujjain and Gwalior.

First Published: Jan 25, 2018 14:01 IST