Screen love affair has Bombay up in arms


in New Delhi

For a 10-rupee (20p) cinema ticket in Bombay or New Delhi, a film-goer is treated to three hours of escape from the harsh reality of India, to a never-never land of songs and dances, fistfights and romance. This cinema fantasy world has its own crazy laws. Lovers may never kiss, and Hindus and Muslims may be perfect friends, but they never marry each other.

A new film called Bombay was supposed to open across India yesterday. It breaks all the rules, with perilous results. Because it focuses on a forbidden love story between a Muslim village girl and a Hindu reporter, and because it recreates scenes of the terrible 1993 January riots in Bombay, which left more than 700 people dead, the film has stirred up violence and controversy.

In Bombay, the police commissioner suspended its release for eight days, after a bomb exploded outside the cinema hall where it was to be shown. At early screenings in Bhopal, Nagpur and Hyderabad, the film was banned after riots erupted. Such is the furore it has ignited that the film's producer, Amitabh Bachan, India's most popular actor, has received death threats.

Strict Muslims want the film banned. They are enraged that in an early love scene, the Hindu hero has insulted "the principles of Islam", by lifting the Muslim beauty's long veil.

Worse, they accuse the director, Mani Ratnam, of portraying Muslims as the instigators of the Bombay riots when, according to human rights monitors, most of the dead were Muslims. One prominent Bombay Muslim, Abdul Qudrus Kashmiri, said: "The wounds are still raw. All this can arouse passions."

Defending his film, Mr Ratnam, told the weekly newspaper Sunday that Bombay is essentially a love story set against the background of the riots: ``I've made a film that speaks of the futility of violence and rioting."

The Hindu reporter persuades the Muslim girl, played by a well-known Hindu actress, Manisha Koiral, to run off to Bombay, where the couple marries and raises twin boys. The children are caught on the streets in the riots, and a thug douses them with kerosene and challenges: "Are you Hindu or Muslim?" The boys, raised in a secular home, do not know how to answer, but their father rescues them as the thug prepares to toss the lit match.

A Western audience might find all this excessively melodramatic. But for Indians, this is gritty realism.

Mr Ratnam was told by the authorities to delay the film's release until after Bombay's elections, last month. Mr Ratnam was worried. One of the villains in the film closely resembled Bal Thackeray, leader of the Shiv Sena, a Hindu nationalist party that smashed the ruling Congress party in the election.

The producer, Mr Bachan, persuaded the Shiv Sena leader to attend a private screening of Bombay.

The director feared that the mercurial Mr Thackeray would be incensed at being presented as the man who was responsible for whipping up communal violence.

Such is the power that Mr Thackeray weilds in Bombay that he could order his militants to destroy any cinema hall that dared to show the film, and the police would not intervene. But Mr Thackeray's reaction was unexpected.

"At the end of the riots," Mr Thackeray told an interviewer after the screening: "They show Tinnu Anand - that is, me - going around in a car. Then, when he sees the violence, he covers his face in his hands and repents. That is wrong. Totally wrong.

"I never repented. Why should I repent? We didn't start the violence." To appease the Shiv Sena leader, the director agreed to cut out the repentance scene.

Since Mr Thackeray's party was voted into power, Muslims in Bombay have felt jittery. The Shiv Sena leader promised to purge the city's hundreds of thousands of Bangladeshi migrant Muslims, most of whom are crammed into slums.

He also threatened that if any Muslim tried to kill him, his militants would "exterminate" the entire Muslim community in the city, which numbers about 2 million.

One Bombay official, a Muslim, Hamida Mistry, said: "All it needs is a spark to trigger the riots that Bombay witnessed two years back. Though I would not say this film will cause riots, my community is angry."

Because of the controversy, Bombay is expected to break box-office records. Its catchy songs are racing up the music charts and many critics praise the director's deft handling of India's communal tensions.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Life and Style
Steve Shaw shows Kate how to get wet behind the ears and how to align her neck
healthSteven Shaw - the 'Buddha of Breaststroke' - applies Alexander Technique to the watery sport
Arts and Entertainment
The sight of a bucking bronco in the shape of a pink penis was too much for Hollywood actor and gay rights supporter Martin Sheen, prompting him to boycott a scene in the TV series Grace and Frankie
footballShirt then goes on sale on Gumtree
Terry Sue-Patt as Benny in the BBC children’s soap ‘Grange Hill’
voicesGrace Dent on Grange Hill and Terry Sue-Patt
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010
Arts and Entertainment
Twin Peaks stars Joan Chen, Michael Ontkean, Kyle Maclachlan and Piper Laurie
tvName confirmed for third series
Cameron Jerome
footballCanaries beat Boro to gain promotion to the Premier League
Arts and Entertainment
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine