Producers of a Bollywood movie have delayed its release amid fears for the safety of its female star, following death threats from prominent Hindu hardliners.
The quasi-historical movie, entitled Padmavati, has ignited anger among right-wing Hindu groups owing to its rumored depiction of a romantic dream sequence involving a mythical Hindu queen and an invading Muslim sultan. The filmmakers have repeatedly denied the movie includes such a scene.
Much of the anger has centered on the movie’s female lead, Deepika Padukone, who has been subject to a sustained campaign of abuse and intimidation. On Sunday, a member of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ruling Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP), Suraj Pal Amu, offered a reward of $1.6 million to anyone who beheads the actress, sparking an immediate outcry and calls for Amu to retract the threat.
Security for Padukone, one of India’s biggest movie stars, was increased earlier in November, Mumbai’s joint commissioner of police Deven Bharti told CNN. It came as a member of little known right wing Hindu group, Kari Sena, publicly threatened to cut off Padukone’s nose.
After months of intimidation and protests, the producers of the movie, Viacom18 Motion Pictures, issued a statement Sunday announcing its December 1 release date had been “voluntarily deferred,” sparking concerns over issues relating to freedom of speech in the world’s largest democracy.
The deferment hasn’t ended the controversy, however. On Monday, the chief minister in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh – which is ruled by the BJP – said the movie will be banned unless so-called offensive scenes are removed.
Padukone plays Queen Padmavati, a legendary Hindu queen who set herself on fire to prevent herself from falling into the hands of invading Muslim conqueror, Alauddin Khilji, played in the movie by Ranveer Singh.
The story of the Queen comes from a 16th-century poem. While the text references the real figure of Alauddin Khilji, a former Sultan who ruled from Delhi, academics do not regard the text as a definitive record of events.
“You have a mythical legendary story which is supposed to speak to (the) mystic,” said Sunil Kumar, a professor of medieval history at Delhi University.
The story is about seeking God, added Kumar, Padmavati stands for perfection and the other characters represent good and evil.
Not everyone sees it that way. In January, members of hardline group Karni Sena stormed the movie’s set during shooting and assaulted the director and crew.
The right wing Hindu group, which says it represents a large and influential caste group in India, has since vandalized movie theaters and launched protests in several states across the country, alleging the movie “distorts” history.
The movie’s director Sanjay Leela Bhansali is known for creating visually decadent and expensive films. His work has been widely recognized in India and was also nominated for a BAFTA.
“I made this film with a lot of respect and responsibility and diligence. This film honors her (Padmavati’s) courage and sacrifice,” said Bhansali in a press statement made earlier in November. “There is no dream sequence between Rani Padmavati (the Hindu queen) and Alauddin Khilji (the Muslim king) in our film.”