Orders film to be removed from theaters

The Indian state of Madhya Pradesh ordered Friday that Bollywood meller “Jodhaa Akbar” be removed from movie screens in the region, following violent demonstrations by Rajputs, a Hindu group said to be descended from royal warrior dynasties, who have denounced what the film’s historical inaccuracy.

“The screening of this film could disrupt peace,” the Madhya Pradesh home ministry said.

“The screening of the film has been suspended and not banned,” Shivraj Singh Chouhan, chief minister of central Madhya Pradesh state, said later.

Producer-distributor UTV, which released the film across most of the country a week ago, said it will challenge the suspension in court if necessary.

“The censor board has passed ‘Jodhaa Akbar’ without any cuts, and the onus is now on the respective authorities to ensure the film is screened across the country without disruption,” the company said in a statement.

Film, by “Lagaan” helmer Ashutosh Gowariker, stars Aishwarya Rai as a Rajput princess who slowly falls in love with the Muslim prince (Hrithik Roshan) with whom she is in an arranged marriage. Gowariker has said that pic is 30% fact, 70% from his imagination.

There have been protests and arson at theaters in the state of Gujurat and unsuccessful attempts to have the courts in Chandigarh ban the film in the Punjab region.

The suspension in Madhya Pradesh, however, will likely have significant impact on the big-budget film’s B.O.

Even without distribution in the Rajasthan region, which also boasts a significant number of Rajputs, UTV gave the film a super-wide release of 500 prints and a further 400 digital prints. Company announced a boffo $6.4 million opening weekend, with a screen average of $7,050, and the pic got off to a cracking start in overseas territories, where it gathered $3.29 million in its three-day weekend debut.

But the film’s cost — an estimated 400 million rupees ($10 million) — and the expenses of putting it into wide release have raised questions about whether it can turn a profit.

Controversy, however, may actually help the pic’s prospects: Movies with similar outcries in the past have ridden the buzz to stay in Indian theaters and swell audience numbers.

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