"My Name is Khan" set to open despite security worries

MUMBAI (Reuters) - Shah Rukh Khan’s new film “My Name is Khan” opens in cinemas across India on Friday but theatre owners in Mumbai were still cagey about its release in the wake of threats by the Shiv Sena.

Workers remove a huge banner of Bollywood actor Shah Rukh Khan's film "My Name Is Khan" from an under construction building as motorcyclists ride past in Mumbai February 10, 2010. "My Name is Khan" opens in cinemas across India on Friday but theatre owners in Mumbai were still cagey about its release. REUTERS/Punit Paranjpe/Files

The radical Hindu group triggered a media storm last week after it criticised Khan for calling for Pakistani cricketers to be included in the Indian Premier League.

Shiv Sena members have torn up posters in Mumbai and warned theatres against screening the movie on Friday.

Cinema owners in Mumbai have expressed apprehensions over security and were closeted in negotiations with distributors Fox Star Studios till late on Thursday night.

Fox, however, seemed to hold firm.

“There is a huge demand for ‘My Name is Khan’. We are releasing it nationally tomorrow,” CEO Vijay Singh was quoted as saying in an SMS statement forwarded by the film’s publicist.

But cinema owners in Mumbai and the rest of Maharashtra were not entirely convinced, despite assurances of security from city police officials. A final call on the film’s release would be taken on Friday morning.

“We are looking for some sort of a reassurance from the distributors that nothing would happen,” a cinema owner, who did not want to be identified, told Reuters.

“Until then, we are not sure if it is prudent to release the film”.

The Shiv Sena’s demand of an apology from Shah Rukh Khan is also unlikely to be fulfilled, with the Bollywood actor sticking to his stand, adding he hadn’t said anything wrong.

“I have the courage of conviction by my side. I explain becos (sic) better to do that, than create aggression & division in my country,” Khan wrote on his Twitter account on the sidelines of the Berlin film festival, where the film is being screened.

“My Name is Khan” stars Shah Rukh Khan as a man with Asperger’s Syndrome, a form of autism, who is a victim of racial bias in the U.S. in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks.

The film is one of the most eagerly awaited releases of the year for Bollywood, which is looking to recover from a bad 2009.

Trade analysts say there is at least 1.2 billion rupees riding on the film and if the Mumbai-Maharashtra circuit is affected, it would affect almost 25 percent of the film’s cinema revenues in India.

Reporting by Shilpa Jamkhandikar