Thousands of riot police guarded Indian theaters on Thursday as the Bollywood Padmaavat blockbuster, the subject of radical Hindu fury, was released.
Some extremist religious and caste movements have been standing up for months against this film about a mythical Hindu queen whose story takes place at the turn of the 14th century, a symptomatic controversy of politico-religious tensions currently at work in India.
They accuse the feature film, which they had not seen and despite the denials of the director, to show a romance between Rajput Padmaavati and the Muslim conqueror Ala Ud-Din Khalji, who seized the fortress of Chittorgarh in 1303.
This protest took a violent turn, with several riots located in different states of northern India in recent days. In the suburbs of New Delhi, protesters attacked a school bus.
In the capital, the police had installed Thursday morning barriers in front of cinemas projecting the blockbuster. Some rooms had chosen not to display the usual outdoor billboards to avoid attracting attention.
On Connaught Place, the manager of a cinema has described to AFP an “atmosphere of fear” because of the threats, but hopes that the violence will be extinguished over the weekend.
“At present, there is a bit of fear, but with tight police protection we hope the situation will improve quickly,” said Sanjay Bhargava.
Opponents of the film threaten to attack the 5,000 or so theaters that broadcast the feature film. According to them, Padmaavat offends the sensibilities of the traditionally warrior caste of the Rajputs.
On the contrary, “the constant invocation of Rajput courage and Muslim vileness feeds the paranoia of the Hindu right,” notes The Wire, after watching this film he goes so far as to call it “disguised cultural propaganda.” in historical drama “.
The deployment of security forces did not dissuade Sabrina Ghosh, a young film buff, from going to one of the first sessions of the day in a Delhi cinema. She considers “repugnant” the agitation around the film.
“No one has the right to walk around burning buses and cars. If you do not like it, do not go see it, “she told AFP.
In the face of unrest, several states controlled by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) wanted to ban Padmaavat in the name of protecting public order. A ban that was rejected by the Supreme Court, which considered that it infringed artistic freedom.
In January of last year, members of Rajput Karni Sena, a caste group, ransacked the film set in Rajasthan. His leader had also offered a reward of 50 million rupees ($ 970,000) to anyone “beheading” the director or the main actress.
Despite the protests, film experts predict that the film – worn by some of the biggest Bollywood stars like Deepika Padukone and Ranveer Singh – will make a cardboard box office.
Most historians believe that Padmaavati is a legendary queen, who never really existed.