Release of new Bollywood film scaled back over row
MUMBAI; Cinemas in the Indian city of Mumbai scaled back the release Friday of top actor Shah Rukh Khan's new film, in the face of violent threats from right-wing Hindus locked in a row with the Bollywood star.
A number of single-screen theatres decided not to show "My Name Is Khan" at all, while some multiplexes cancelled morning shows, after the ultra-nationalist Shiv Sena party said they would disrupt the film's release.
The Shiv Sena, which pushes a regionalist, often anti-Muslim, anti-Pakistan agenda, has been outraged at Khan's comments regretting the absence of Pakistani cricketers from next month's Indian Premier League tournament.
The 44-year-old Muslim actor, born in New Delhi to parents from what is now Pakistan, part-owns IPL outfit the Kolkata Knight Riders.
One single-screen owner, Manoj Desai, said one of his cinemas was vandalised by Shiv Sena activists even before the release of the film, which in part tackles US attitudes to Muslims after the September 11, 2001 attacks.
"Why should I take the risk?" Desai said of his decision to pull the movie.
Film posters and images of Khan were defaced or burnt by protesters in New Delhi and the eastern city of Kolkata, as well as in the Gujarat state capital Ahmedabad. There were also sporadic scuffles in Mumbai.
Shiv Sena leaders said the decision to initially scale back screenings vindicated their stance.
"We are happy and this is certainly a success of the party's protest," said lawmaker Sanjay Raut. "In fact, the decision should have been taken by the government earlier."
But industry analysts suggested the cancellations would have only a limited impact on the film's box office takings, as more cinemas began showing the film by Friday afternoon amid reports of full houses.
"It's now opening everywhere. They lost out on initial morning shows but should be OK," Taran Adarsh, from www.bollywoodhungama.com, told AFP. "It is one million dollars' worth of publicity. They couldn't buy it."
Distributors Fox Star Studios have said they want the film -- described by one critic as "one of the most meaningful and moving" Bollywood films in recent years -- to replicate the success of the Oscar-winning "Slumdog Millionaire".
The film is being tipped to challenge the success of Aamir Khan's "3 Idiots", which last month became Bollywood's biggest-grossing movie of all time.
Khan, in Berlin for the film's German premiere, praised fans for ignoring the protests -- and fellow Bollywood stars for their support.
"i realise today... i am just a film hero... u all in the theatres r the real deal. god feel so loved humbled. hats off to all heroes," he wrote on the micro-blogging site Twitter.
The home minister of western Maharashtra state, of which Mumbai is the capital, went to the movie's opening show as part of government efforts to reassure the public.
About 11,000 police had been deployed to protect theatres, the force said.
Ticket-holders were frisked and asked to prove their identity before entering, AFP reporters and photographers said. Inside the INOX multiplex in south Mumbai, one police officer was seen filming cinema-goers.
Commentators have accused the Shiv Sena of playing identity politics and said the row was a publicity stunt to bolster flagging support after a poor showing at recent elections.
The Shiv Sena has long claimed to champion the rights of people from Maharashtra over "outsiders", particularly those from north India, often backing up its stance with violence.
It also sees itself as a guardian of traditional Hindu values.
Khan has refused to apologise for his comments and denied Shiv Sena jibes that he was unpatriotic.