Indian cinemas pull lesbian film
June 16 2004 11:00 PM ET
Some cinema halls in India's western state of Gujarat on Wednesday stopped showing a controversial film about a love affair between two women because of fears of attacks by hard-line Hindu groups. The move came after two days of violent protests by right-wing Hindus who vandalized cinemas in several cities against the screening of the Bollywood film, Girlfriend, which they said violated India's traditional culture. "We have decided not to show the film from today for security reasons," Ashok Purohit, owner of City Pulse group, which runs two multiplexes in Ahmedabad, Gujarat's main city, and Gandhinagar, the state capital, told Reuters. "Though there have been no attacks on any theaters or any threats from anyone, we're not taking any chances."
Gujarat, one of India's most industrialized states and ruled by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, was torn by the country's worst religious riots in a decade in 2002. Some 1,000 people, mostly Muslims, were slaughtered in the riots. Cinema owners said they were taking precautions after members of hard-line groups such as the Shiv Sena and Bajrang Dal ripped posters and smashed windows in theaters screening the film in various parts of India, including Bombay, home of Bollywood. "Security of the building and the general public coming to watch the movie was paramount while deciding to suspend the shows," said Anshu Vyas, a spokesman of Fun Republic, a countrywide chain of multiplexes.
Groups like the Shiv Sena and Bajrang Dal are part of a growing tribe of cultural vigilantes in India opposed to the country's increasing Westernization. In the past, they have launched violent protests against Valentine's Day celebrations in India and have also stopped a film on the plight of widows forced into prostitution, saying they denigrated India's ancient traditions. Homosexuality is banned in India under a law first framed by British colonialists, but a strong gay rights movement has grown over the past few years in urban centers like Delhi and Bombay.
Girlfriend had a lukewarm opening last Friday, but shows at some cinemas have been packed since the controversy erupted. In Bombay the film is showing in over a dozen theaters with police protection, and crowds have started thronging cinema halls after television channels aired scenes from the film. "Our shows were sold out yesterday. The crowds have increased after all this controversy," said Pawan Jain, manager of a cinema in central Bombay. But some said they were disappointed about missing the film. "Why should they stop screening the film? The choice should be left to individuals," said Abhijat Shah, a college student who came to watch a noon show in Ahmedabad. "Nobody, whether it's a religious or political group, should decide what's good or bad for me."