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‘My Name is Khan’ controversy

Some Indian theaters nix pic amid mounting protests

German police were out in force for the Berlin premiere of Shah Rukh Khan’s “My Name Is Khan,” but their security measures were dwarfed by those in Mumbai, where authorities arrested more than 2,000 protesters ahead of the pic’s release on Friday.

Khan angered conservative Hindus by publicly advocating the participation of Pakistani players in next month’s Indian Premiere League cricket tournament. The star owns an Indian Premiere League cricket team, the Kolkota Knight Riders.

India’s right-wing political party Shiv Sena called the star’s remarks anti-Indian in view of the Pakistani nationals who were implicated in the Mumbai bombings of 2008, and threatened to disrupt the film’s release in the city, the capital of Maharashtra state and home of Bollywood. Party members took to the streets and destroyed posters and billboards and threatened to destroy cinema screens if theater owners showed the film.

Strong police action and dramatic support by Mumbai citizens, who turned out in droves for the pic, foiled the plot, however.

Mumbai multiplex owners decided to give the film a limited release then add screens depending on the security situation.

The film industry expressed solidarity with Khan and all 45,000 members of the Federation of Western India Cine Employees attended early shows of the film. By Friday evening, more than 60% of Mumbai multiplexes were screening the film, although most standalone cinemas remained nervous and declined to carry the pic.

Khan received a much warmer reception in Berlin, where he also enjoys a massive loyal following. Two years ago hundreds of fans caused havoc at the fest when they turned out for his Berlinale screener “Om Shanti Om.”

This year “My Name Is Khan” unspools out of competition. Pic centers on a Muslim with Asperger’s syndrome living in America and whose life is disrupted by 9/11 (see review, page 8).

“As much as people like to laugh, they also like to see dramatic films which are relevant,” the actor said. “And I think ‘Khan’ touches upon an issue which is globally relevant. So I think they will identify with the dramatic essence of the film, and also there is a strong element of a love story in the film.”

Khan produced “Khan” via his Red Chillies Entertainment. Fox Searchlight is handling international sales.

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