India’s top court rejects bid to re-instate ban on film as Hindu groups protest

NEW DELHI/MUMBAI,  (Reuters) – India’s Supreme Court yesterday rejected bids by two states to re-instate a ban on the release of controversial Bollywood film “Padmaavat”, saying it stood by its previous ruling clearing the way for the movie to be shown in theatres.

Groups critical of the project have accused its director, Sanjay Leela Bhansali, of distorting history by portraying a Muslim ruler as the “lover” of Queen Padmavati of the Hindu Rajput warrior clan, a charge the film makers deny.

The government of the northwestern state of Rajasthan had argued it wanted to avoid public unrest by banning the film. On Monday Rajasthan and the central state of Madhya Pradesh, both run by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), asked the court to reconsider its earlier ruling.

“We are not going to modify our earlier order,” the three-judge bench of the Apex Court, headed by Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra said yesterday.

“States must ensure that law and order must prevail,” Misra added.

The film, due to be released on Thursday ahead of the Republic Day long weekend, has opened for advance bookings in the rest of the country, but theatres in the two states have yet to list it. The court had issued its initial ruling last week at the behest of the film’s producers after four states, including Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, had sought to ban the film, despite clearance by a film certification panel.

Despite the court ruling, theatre owners in the two states, which are among India’s biggest film markets, said they were wary of releasing the film without more explicit support from their state governments.

“We want to release the film, but have no support from the government. When we approached the local police, we were told that we should show the film at our own risk,” Sandeep Jain, who owns seven theatres in Madhya Pradesh, told Reuters over the phone.

The top administrative officer in the district of Gurgaon, about 30 km (19 miles) from capital New Delhi, imposed a ban on carrying firearms or other article capable of causing injury, raising slogans and exhibiting placards within 200 metres of cinema halls and multiplexes from 23-28 January.

Conservative Hindu groups, such as the Shri Rajput Karni Sena, held protests this week against the film’s release, including blocking traffic in parts of the country.

A Rajput community group, Sarwa Kshatriya Mahasabha, in the central state of Chhattisgarh said they will continue their protests despite the court’s order.

“We have already warned the cinema hall owners and they have given in writing that they will not screen the film. In case they do, we will not be responsible for any consequences,” Rakesh Singh Bais told Reuters.

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