MUMBAI (Reuters) - Theatres in Mumbai turned fortresses on Friday for release of a Bollywood film whose star is locked in a duel with a radical Hindu group, sparking worries India’s financial hub is being undermined by parochial politics.
Most cinemas began showing ‘My Name is Khan’ by afternoon after initial reluctance for fear of attacks by the hard-line Shiv Sena party.
“This is a slap in the face of the Sena,” said a woman exiting a Mumbai multiplex, giving the thumbs-up sign.
The controversy was sparked by the film’s hero Shah Rukh Khan’s recent criticism that no Pakistani cricketers had been picked for the Indian Premier League.
Thousands of police in riot gear were deployed to protect cinemas with plainclothesmen also inside the halls. Police detained 2,000 Shiv Sena members as a precaution, and beat back protesters outside some theatres.
Protests also spread to some other Indian cities.
Analysts and politicians have warned the Sena’s tactics may hurt Mumbai’s image as a cosmopolitan city and its efforts to model itself as an international financial center like Dubai or Singapore. Mumbai is also home to the Bollywood film industry.
Shiv Sena, which runs the Mumbai municipality, draws political sustenance from hard-line Hinduism and an ultra-nationalism that includes strident opposition to Pakistan.
“I came to see the movie because it’s been so controversial, and because I am a huge fan of Shah Rukh Khan,” said Subhash Kandrep who was waiting for the first show at Inox in Mumbai.
“I don’t see why a movie should not be shown just because some people are protesting over what Khan said.”
The Sena, which upholds the rights of Mumbai’s indigenous Marathi community, has in recent weeks also turned its ire on industrialist billionaire Mukesh Ambani and cricketer Sachin Tendulkar for remarks the Sena perceived as being anti-Mumbai.
The Sena’s stance has triggered a heated debate across the country, with politicians, film stars and businesses weighing in.
Khan, arguably Bollywood’s most successful star, plays an autistic man subject to racial bias in the United States after the September 11 terror attacks.
He kept up a torrent of tweets through the night from the Berlin film festival where his movie is showing. It was ironic, he said, that a film made for peace “has led to so much angst in my own house. My city. My country. Am I political or politically incorrect?”
Trade analysts say about 1.2 billion rupees ($26 million) is at stake, with Mumbai and Maharashtra state typically accounting for more than a quarter of a Bollywood film’s revenues.
The skirmish in Mumbai comes as local politics have also rattled other cities in India, including the IT hub of Hyderabad, home to Indian operations of multinationals including Microsoft and Amazon, which has been repeatedly shut down over protests for the creation of a new state carved out of Andhra Pradesh state.
Additional reporting by Shilpa Jamkhandikar; Editing by Krittivas Mukherjee and Jerry Norton