Recipe for Ruckus in India: A Queen’s Honor, a New Film and Politics

A protest against the coming movie “Padmaavat” in Mumbai, India.

MUMBAI, India — They stormed a film set. They pulled the director’s hair. They burned movie posters. They even threatened to behead the lead actress — or at least cut off her nose.

Hindu extremists in India have played just about every trick in their book to block the release of “Padmaavat,” a lavish Bollywood film about a 14th-century Hindu queen.

But none of it worked, and this coming week, the most potentially explosive Indian film in years will open across the country.

With many Indians fearing that “Padmaavat” has all the ingredients that could lead to riots, the police are already planning extra security. The film hits two of India’s sorest sore spots: Hindu-Muslim relations and perceived assaults on tradition.

The story centers on Padmavati, a legendary Hindu queen who killed herself rather than submit to invading Muslims. For centuries, Hindus in India have lionized Padmavati and paid tribute to her unyielding honor.

The trailer for “Padmaavat”CreditVideo by Viacom18 Motion Pictures

But today, with Hindu supremacy rising and tensions growing between India’s majority Hindus and minority Muslims, the queen’s story seems to have become yet another wedge to stick between Indians of different religions and castes.

Even though few people have actually seen the entire film, rumors of offensive material have circulated on social media, leading to all sorts of objections — and the violence during production.

Some Hindus were convinced there were scenes showing Padmavati in less than an honorable light, which the filmmakers strenuously denied.

India’s Muslims, on the other hand, have remained largely quiet, despite the fact that the film portrays the Muslim conquerors as specialists in destruction.

A handful of chief ministers, a state-level position similar to a governor, tried to ban the film in their states, saying that feelings were so raw and anxieties so high that major violence could erupt. Disappointed artists said the politicians were simply feeding off — and stoking — the growing intolerance.

“It’s a shame, actually,’’ said Shyam Benegal, a well-known filmmaker. “These politicians are trying to look for votes. It has nothing to do with principle.”


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