Violence, protests as 'Girlfriend' is screened (SECOND LEAD)
Protest demonstrations erupted in three Indian cities Monday as the Hindu activists demanded a ban on the Bollywood film "Girlfriend", objecting to its theme of alternate sexuality.
Owners of theatres across the country where the movie was released Friday have become jittery after protestors in Mumbai and Varanasi stormed theatres and tore down its posters and banners. They smashed windowpanes and name boards of the cinema halls screening the film.
Attacks on theatres showing the movie directed by Karan Razdan and starring Isha Koppiker, Amrita Arora and Ashish Chowdhry were reported from the Hindu holy town of Varanasi and the country's financial capital Mumbai.
Shiv Sena activists disrupted shows of the movie in Mumbai and Varanasi and Bajrang Sena, a little known radical organisation in Madhya Pradesh, demonstrated before a police station in Bhopal.
Senior Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) leader K.S. Sudershan told reporters in Nagpur, Maharashtra, that such movies should be banned as they threatened to corrupt society with bad thoughts.
"At a time when alternate sexuality has come under attack even abroad, including Australia, the movie seeks to introduce such ideas (of homosexuality) in our society," he said.
"These are the practices that have cost society dear and are responsible for new diseases like AIDS," Sudershan said.
In Mumbai, they marched to Premier Cinema house and tore down posters and banners of the movie, theatre manager Karan Kamath said.
"No damage was done to the theatre. Some posters were torn down by activists from the Shiv Sena's student wing. They protested and left before the police arrived on the scene."
Police have strengthened security in all movie houses in the city showing the movie, according to Javed Ahmed, joint police commissioner (law and order).
In Varanasi, about 30 Shiv Sena workers sporting saffron headbands stormed Sajan cinema, broke its windowpanes, tore down the movie's posters and burnt the effigy of the filmmaker.
The demonstration continued for about 25 minutes before police arrived on the scene and removed them.
Local Shiv Sena leader Arun Pathak told IANS over phone, "This film portraying lesbianism is a blot on Indian culture and we will not allow this to be exhibited in this city.
"These Mumbai-based filmmakers only want to make money even at the cost of running down our own traditions and culture through the portrayal of immorality."
In Bhopal, about 50 activists of Bajrang Sena gathered in front of the M.P. Nagar police station and burned posters of the movie.
They had earlier given a memorandum to the district collector of Bhopal, demanding the movie's withdrawal. Being a small outfit, the organisation apparently did not have the numbers to storm the two theatres in the city showing the movie.
Ashutosh Mishra, Bajrang Sena leader, said the stir would continue till the movie is withdrawn.
"The movie is against Indian culture and hence cannot be shown here," he said. "Only people with perverted minds are watching the movie," he said.
Theatre owners in New Delhi expressed apprehension about screening the movie.
"There have been no demonstrations, but we are worried," an official of Sangam cinema hall in south Delhi said, declining to give his name.
An official of Gagan cinema hall in central Delhi said the movie was "not doing so well, but we might remove it in view of the violent protests in cities like Mumbai".
Theatre owners said they had not sought police protection, but they were anticipating trouble and were in touch with senior police officials.
"Girlfriend" is being screened in nine halls in the capital.
The theme of lesbianism has always stirred controversy in a conservative society like India. Popular director Deepa Mehta's film "Fire" on the same subject had generated countrywide protests a few years ago.
An official of Ginni Arts, which has the distribution rights for "Girlfriend" in Uttar Pradesh and Delhi, said the firm was surprised by the violent protests.
"The movie has been cleared by the censor board and I feel no one should have problems with the content," he said.
Censor board chief and actor Anupam Kher, however, said it was the duty of police to stop the screening if they felt it would lead to social tension.
"Our duty is only to give certificates to films and cut objectionable portions," he told a TV news channel from Mumbai.
"It is the state government's duty to ensure peaceful screening of the film and if they feel it can cause trouble, police have every right to remove it from the theatres," Kher said.