April 29, 2008 / 10:07 AM / in 10 years

Mumbai cinemas closed over "wrong language" spat

MUMBAI (Reuters Life!) - About a fifth of all cinemas in Mumbai, home to India’s Bollywood, are being closed temporarily for not showing enough films in a local language, police said on Tuesday.

The move from the state’s home ministry stems from of an old local law requiring Marathi-language films to be shown at least once a day for four weeks every year.

“It is the state language of Maharashtra state. People staying here have to respect that,” said Vijaysingh Jadhav, a deputy commissioner for Mumbai police.

“Marathi films are also too good, they should screen them.”

Mumbai is one of India’s most cosmopolitan and liberal cities, but its leaders sometimes promote regulations favoring the Marathi people of Maharashtra state, of which Mumbai is the capital.

Marathis are now a minority in the city, but resentment about “outsiders” from the rest of India has sparked disturbances on Mumbai streets earlier this year.

In recent months, the pro-Marathi movement has seen politicians revive attempts to force companies to hire a minimum number of Maharashtrians on their staff.

Members of a recently formed pro-Marathi party have also beat up taxi drivers, many of whom come from northern India, saying their jobs could be done by people born closer to the city.

The cinema drive, the first of its kind, has seen 34 movie halls ordered shut for up to eight days, and prompted fears among owners that the crackdown may harm business.

More popular at the box office are the Hindi movies churned out by Mumbai’s Bollywood film industry, which are these days as likely to be filmed in the tourist districts of New York or Paris as they are in India.

By contrast, Marathi directors complain the 25 or so low-budget Marathi films released each year are deprived of an audience.

But the films sometimes strike even those who understand them as parochial, said Vinayak Azaad, who heads the Mumbai office of the Central Board of Film Certification.

“They are dealing with subjects that are local, about domestic strife, rural poverty, indebtedness,” he said.

“Hindi films are always more glossy with the big star cast.”

Reporting by Jonathan Allen; Editing by Gillian Murdoch

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