After a prolonged battle, Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s $30 million period epic “Padmaavat” opened across most of India on Thursday. The film’s release was accompanied by vandalism of malls and burning vehicles.
The violence erupted amid claims by Hindu hard-liners that the film distorts history. On Wednesday, a mobile phone video that went viral showed a bus full of schoolchildren being pelted with stones by “Padmaavat” protesters on the outskirts of Delhi. Many schools in the Indian capital decided not to open Thursday.
India’s Supreme Court overturned a ban on the film’s release by the state governments of Rajasthan, Haryana, Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh. Appeals against the high court’s decision were dismissed. The states contended that the film’s release would cause law and order issues, but the Supreme Court said it was the states’ duty to maintain peace.
Despite this, the Multiplex Association of India, a trade organization representing 75% of multiplex operators, advised its members in Rajasthan, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Goa not to release the film until the situation calms down.
The film’s troubles began during its shoot when fringe groups belonging to the Hindu Rajput community claimed, sight unseen, that the film distorts history. The groups also railed against an alleged dream sequence in which Hindu queen Padmavati is wooed by Muslim invader Alauddin Khilji. Sets were repeatedly vandalized, and Bhansali and lead actress Deepika Padukone received death threats.
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The release was deferred from Dec. 1, 2017, to Thursday. India’s Central Board of Film Certification changed the title from “Padmavati” to “Padmaavat,” after the fictitious Sufi poem on which the film is based, and ordered five cuts. Producers Viacom 18 Motion Pictures and Bhansali Productions complied. Paramount is distributing in a few international territories.
In the parts of India where it will enjoy an unfettered release, “Padmaavat” will have the benefit of a solo run because the release of Sony’s female-hygiene drama “Padman,” starring Akshay Kumar, has been postponed to Feb. 9. Friday is India’s Republic Day, a public holiday, thus creating a long weekend for “Padmaavat.”
Some commentators have suggested that the protests have a political agenda. They noted that violence has largely occurred in states governed by Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist BJP, while opposition-held states have been largely calm. The film was approved for release in neighboring Muslim-majority Pakistan.