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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 14 December 2018

India's top court clears film that upset nationalists

Supreme court also overturns state bans on screening of Padmavat

Members of India's Rajput community protest against the release of the Bollywood movie Padmavat in Mumbai city on January 12, 2018. India's supreme court cleared the film for screening six days later. Danish Siddiqui / Reuters
Members of India's Rajput community protest against the release of the Bollywood movie Padmavat in Mumbai city on January 12, 2018. India's supreme court cleared the film for screening six days later. Danish Siddiqui / Reuters

India’s supreme court on Thursday approved the release of the controversial Bollywood movie Padmavat and overturned bans on the film imposed by the governments of six states.

The movie, whose December 1 release was postponed in the face of protests and opposition from right-wing Hindu groups, will now hit screens across India on January 25.

Padmavat tells the story of a fictional 14th-century queen, Padmavati, who hailed from the martial Rajput caste. Based on a 1540 poem, the movie shows the Muslim ruler Alauddin Khilji falling in love with Padmavati and laying siege to her kingdom in a bid to snatch her.

Rajput groups, joined by Hindu nationalist outfits like the Karni Sena, have claimed that the film depicts Padmavati in dishonorable light. The movie’s sets were vandalised and its actors threatened. Threats were also issued against any cinema that screened the film.

In November, Suraj Pal Amu, a politician from prime minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), called for the beheading of the film’s director and its star, Deepika Padukone, offering a bounty of 100 million rupees (Dh5.75m) apiece.

This month, as the new release date set by the film's producers approached, the governments of Gujarat, Haryana, Madhya Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Rajasthan decided to ban screenings in their states, citing the possibility of law and order problems.

But Dipak Misra, India’s chief justice, said that states cannot prohibit the screening of films that have been cleared by the federal government’s Central Board of Film Certification.

“Cinemas are an inseparable part of the right to free speech and expression,” he said.

“Quite clearly, it’s a win for freedom of expression,” Shyam Benegal, one of India’s most acclaimed filmmakers, told the IANS news agency in the wake of the verdict.

But opposition to the film's release is likely to continue. Mr Amu said the court had “hurt the sentiments” of Hindus and added: “Our protest will continue even if I am hanged to death.”