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Anti-Padmaavat group intensifies protest as film appears set for release tomorrow

Rajput Karni Sena chief Lokendra Singh Kalvi claimed that the film's producers had agreed to hold a special screening.

Mayur Lookhar

The Supreme Court cleared the decks for the release of Padmaavat last week, lifting the ban imposed on the film in Rajasthan, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Haryana and asking all state governments to maintain law and order.

However, as was only to be expected, some members of the Rajput Karni Sena resorted to protests in parts of the country yesterday in what appears to be a desperate attempt to prevent the film's release.

Protests took place in parts of Rajasthan, Haryana, Gujarat, and Uttar Pradesh. There was even one protest reported from Telangana.

In Maharashtra, there was trouble in Navi Mumbai late in the evening with hooligans blocking a road in Vashi with what looked like burning tyres. Confirming the trouble, an officer from the Vashi police station said, "Yes, an incident happened, but until an FIR [first information report] is lodged, we cannot say anything."

A report on the television news channel Mirror Now said a group of Rajput women wrote to prime minister Narendra Modi threatening to commit jauhar (self-immolation) if the film were not banned. According to the channel, 16,000 Rajput women threatened to end their lives.

Exhibitors, meanwhile, are going ahead with plans to screen the film. Interestingly, the film's release, which was earlier scheduled for Thursday, appears to have been advanced to Wednesday. There was no official word on this, however, from either Viacom18 Motion Pictures, the producer, or Sanjay Leela Bhansali, the director.

Cinepolis, a popular multiplex at Viviana mall in Thane city, reportedly suspended bookings for Padmaavat. However, theatres in South Mumbai and the western suburbs are seeing great demand for the film on online booking platforms, as are cinemas in Southern cities and in tony areas of Delhi.

No screenings have yet been scheduled anywhere in Gujarat, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh despite the Supreme Court's order lifting the ban in those regions. Theatres in Haryana have, however, scheduled screenings of the film.

Trade analyst Atul Mohan said, “Yesterday, the Gujarat Theatre Association refused to screen the film. Protests have been reported in Haryana, NOIDA and some neighbouring states. It is very difficult in this scenario for the film to have a smooth release.”

Meanwhile, the Karni Sena head, Lokendra Singh Kalvi, claimed that the filmmakers had agreed to screen Padmaavat for a delegation of the organization. 

“We are ready to watch the film," he told the Press Trust of India news agency. "We never said we will not watch the film. The filmmaker had assured us a year ago that he would have a special screening and now he has written for the screening and we are ready."

There was no independent confirmation of this, however, from Viacom18 or from Bhansali.

An industry source, who did not want to be quoted, remarked, “You showed the film to the rest of the world. Why didn’t you hold a screening for this group before? Apart from this needless controversy, there is talk now that the film's content may not be great. Things don’t look too good for Padmaavat.”

Another report said Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) chairman Prasoon Joshi had been provided with Z-category security.

It may be recalled that the CBFC had invited a few members of erstwhile Rajput royal clans to give their views on Padmaavat, then called Padmavati. Arvind Singh Mewar, a scion of the royal family of Mewar, who was on the advisory panel constituted by the board, had strongly objected to the film's content at a meeting called by the CBFC.

"I don't know after how many cuts or modifications the CBFC certified the film and so I cannot predict the results," the ex-royal had told the Mumbai Mirror newspaper in December. "The certificate won't carry our signatures. With so much harm already caused, they [the moviemakers and the CBFC] should be prepared for the consequences."

The next 48 hours are likely to be anxious not just for the filmmakers but also for police forces across the country.