Release of new Bollywood film scaled back over political row

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The Independent Culture

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.

Some single-screen theatres decided not to show "My Name Is Khan" at all, while some multiplex cinemas opted to limit or cancel showings of the movie.

Activists from the ultra-nationalist Shiv Sena party said they would disrupt the film's release because of the actor's comments regretting the absence of Pakistani cricketers in the Indian Premier League tournament.

The Shiv Sena has long claimed to champion the rights of people from western Maharashtra state, of which Mumbai is the capital, over "outsiders", often backing up its stance with violence.

It also sees itself as a guardian of traditional Hindu values and pushes a strong anti-Muslim, anti-Pakistan rhetoric.

"Shiv Sainiks tore the screen at Maratha Mandir (cinema) even before the release of the film. Why should I take chances?" said Manoj Desai, who owns a number of single-screen theatres in the city.

Another owner of a single screen cinema near the party's central Mumbai headquarters also decided not to show the film, which in part tackles the treatment of Muslims in the United States after the September 11, 2001 attacks.

Multiplex chains Fun Cinemas and TVR said the film would be released but with limited screenings, while Cinemax India and INOX have decided to postpone showings and assess the situation, sources told AFP.

Their decision came despite pleas from the chief minister of Maharashtra for people to see the film and police reassurances that security will be tight.

"Hundreds of men have been deployed in plain clothes and in uniform to see that everything goes well," said Mumbai police commissioner D. Sivanandhan.

Police this week arrested more than 1,800 Shiv Sena members, mainly as a preventative measure, after sporadic violence outside cinemas.

Full-page advertisements for "My Name Is Khan" were also in daily newspapers while the head of distributors Fox Star Studios insisted the release would go ahead.

Shiv Sena leaders said the decision to scale back screenings vindicated their stance.

"We are happy and this is certainly a success of the party's protest," lawmaker Sanjay Raut was quoted as saying the Press Trust of India news agency. "In fact the decision should have been taken by the government earlier."

Khan, a New Delhi-born Muslim whose parents came from what is now Pakistan, has refused to apologise for his comments and denied claims that he was unpatriotic.

The 44-year-old star part-owns IPL outfit the Kolkata Knight Riders.

While Mumbai was the focus of the anti-Khan protests, posters of the film and its star were defaced or burned outside cinemas in other major cities like New Delhi, Kolkata and the Gujarat state capital Ahmedabad.

"At the moment we are not sure if we will be able to screen the movie," said Yatin Rawal, owner of single screen Apsara theatre in Ahmedabad.

"We will only show the film if adequate safety and security is guaranteed by the police," Rawal said.

Commentators have accused the Shiv Sena of playing identity politics and said the row is a publicity stunt to bolster flagging support after a poor showing at recent elections.

Meanwhile, "My Name Is Khan" received mixed reviews in the English-language press.

The Times of India gave it five stars, describing it as "one of the most meaningful and moving films to be rolled out of the Bollywood mills in recent times".

Its reviewer said it sent a message "that tolerance is the indispensable virtue for the 21st century which can have no place for (fundamentalists), regionalists, communalists, casteists, gender, class and cultural chauvinists".

The Hindustan Times, which gave it three stars, said: "We know the villains in the movie. They could be outside its theatre."

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