Amid escalating tension surrounding Bollywood epic Padmavati, India’s extremist Rajput caste group Karni Sena has threatened to burn down any British cinema that screens the film. This comes as the Deepika Padukone-starrer continues to face angry sentiment and threats against cast and crew. In another development on Friday, a body was found hanged near the site of one of the film’s shooting locations with a note reportedly referencing the movie. This is all before the film has been screened publicly.
Producers Viacom18 last Sunday delayed the Indian release indefinitely and Paramount, which acquired the film for the rest of the world, is understood to be awaiting the local decision before moving forward with any offshore distribution.
The furor surrounding Padmavati, directed by Sanjay Leela Bhansali, is based on what some groups say is offensive sexual content while others claim historical inaccuracies.
Padmavati recounts the tale of Rani Padmavati, a Mewar queen who appears in the 16th century epic poem by Malik Muhammad Jayasi. Over centuries of the poem’s retelling, it has taken on historical significance, although there is little evidence the events involving Padmavati actually occurred. The story sees a sultan lay siege to the Chittor Fort in pursuit of the queen, her husband killed and she herself commit self-immolation rather than be captured. The film is based on Bhansali’s operatic rendition of the poem which played in Paris and Rome. Shahid Kapoor and Ranvir Singh also star.
Extremist and fringe groups have claimed the movie includes a dream sequence in which the Muslim sultan romances the Hindu queen. But director Bhansali has repeatedly denied such a scene exists.
Padukone, who has starred in such blockbusters as Chennai Express and Bajirao Mastani, as well as XXX: The Return Of Xander Cage, has received death threats including a bounty being placed on her head which this week was endorsed, and increased, by a member of the right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party. Bhansali has also received threats, and in January was attacked on the set of the film by the fringe Karni Sena.
Adding to the ongoing situation, news reports out of India on Friday said that a body was found hanging at a fort in Jaipur, not far from where the film shot earlier this year. The ANI news service reported the body had been identified as that of a local man, while BBC Hindi said police had not determined if it was a suicide or murder. Next to the body was a note scratched into a rock, “We don’t burn effigies, we hang,” with the word “Padmavati” etched below. India’s First Post says Karni Sena has denied involvement in the incident.
Also this week, a Karni Sena leader appeared on Mumbai-based Republic TV and called on people from the Rajput community in the UK to protest. He added, “Every cinema screening Padmavati will be burned.” The group had previously burned sets and costumes from the film, according to local reports.The photo at left shows members of the Rajput community burn an effigy of Bhansali this week.
Further in the UK, home to a vast Indian community, London-based Hindu charity Rajput Samaj is seeking to have the BBFC revoke the movie’s certification over what it claims is an historically inaccurate account, rather than the claims of other groups over the scenes Bhansali has repeatedly said do not exist. Rajput Samaj has also said it will hold peaceful protests, stressing to The Guardian that it is against any violence.
Although Padukone has pulled out of Ivanka Trump’s upcoming Global Entrepreneurship Summit in Hyderabad, she did attend last night’s Asiavision Movie Awards where she was honored as Icon of the Year. She did not allude to the Padmavati situation in her acceptance speech.
It remains to be seen when the film will actually see the inside of a movie theater. In India, Viacom18 had voluntarily moved to postpone the December 1 release with the decision ultimately down to the Central Board of Film Certification. In a statement that also applies to the Paramount release in the rest of the world, a V18 spokesperson recently said:
“Viacom18 Motion Pictures, the studio behind ‘Padmavati’ has voluntarily deferred the release date of the film from December 1st 2017. Along with Sanjay Leela Bhansali, amongst the most gifted film makers of his generation, Viacom18 Motion Pictures has created a beautiful cinematic masterpiece in ‘Padmavati’ that captures Rajput valor, dignity and tradition in all its glory. The film is an eloquent portrayal of a tale that will fill every Indian with pride and showcase our country’s story-telling prowess across the globe. We are a responsible, law-abiding corporate citizen and have the highest respect and regard for the law of the land and all our institutions and statutory bodies including the Central Board of Film Certification. We always have and are committed to continue following the established procedure and convention. We have faith that we will soon obtain the requisite clearances to release the film.”
Here’s the trailer which has garnered about 49M views since early October: