Shops were ransacked and vehicles torched in parts of India on Thursday as activists from Hindu nationalist groups showed their anger over the release of a controversial film about a 14th Century Muslim emperor and a Hindu queen.
A school bus was reportedly pelted with stones in Gurgaon, Haryana, and a Roadways bus was burned to a hulk. Acts of vandalism were also reported in Delhi, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh on Wednesday, according to The Hindustan Times.
Tension over the Bollywood epic Padmaavat have been brewing since it began shooting in 2016.
The controversy centers around the story of a Muslim emperor, Alauddin Khilji, who, besotted by a Rajput queen, laid siege to her Meewar kingdom in hopes of capturing her.
Hindu groups allege that the film contains an intimate dream sequence depicting a romantic encounter between Queen Padmavati, played by Bollywood actor Deepika Padukone, and Khiliji, portrayed by Ranveer Singh. However, director Sanjay Leela Bhansali has insisted that it contains no such sequence, a fact confirmed by journalists who got an early screening of the movie.
However, even the hint of such a relationship has been enough to anger right-wing Hindu groups, such as Rajasthan's Karni Sena — which claims to defend the state's upper-caste Rajputs — and its backers, such as the national (and nationalist) Bharatiya Janata Party, or BJP.
According to Hollywood Reporter:
"The ensuing controversy led to the film's release being postponed from Dec. 1. It was eventually cleared for release after [India's Film Censor Board] demanded some modifications, to which the producers agreed. These included changing its original title Padmavati to Padmaavat, with the new title referring to the epic poem Padmavat written in 1540 by Sufi poet Malik Muhammad Jayasi, which relates a fictional story about Khilji's desire for queen Padmavati. The censor board also asked for a disclaimer to state that it 'does not claim historical accuracy.'"
During production of the film a year ago, Bhansali was assaulted and the set vandalized over the controversy, prompting Prime Minister Narendra Modi to condemn the attack, calling it "frankly, very disheartening."
Although historical evidence supports Khiliji's attack on the kingdom, located in modern-day Rajasthan, in 1303, there is little to support that Padmavati existed, let alone that there was a relationship between the two.