India's top court rejects bid to reinstate ban on film as Hindu groups protest

NEW DELHI/MUMBAI (Reuters) - India’s Supreme Court on Tuesday rejected bids by two states to reinstate a ban on the disputed Bollywood film “Padmaavat”, saying it stood by its previous ruling clearing the way for the movie to be shown in theaters.

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Street protests against the film turned increasingly violent late on Tuesday with reports of vandalism around a number of multiplexes in the western state of Gujarat.

Groups critical of the project have accused its director, Sanjay Leela Bhansali, of distorting history by portraying a Muslim ruler as the “lover” of Queen Padmavati of the Hindu Rajput warrior clan. The filmmakers deny the accusation.

A fire department official said protesters had burnt dozens of two-wheelers and smashed a number of car and shop windows in Ahmedabad, Gujarat on Tuesday night.

Ahmedabad Police Commissioner A.K.Singh said the violence occurred around four shopping malls that house multiplexes. He said hundreds of youth were involved.

“We had to open fire to stop the mob from smashing vehicles,” Singh told Reuters, adding no one was injured in the shooting. “We are upgrading security near these malls.”

The government of the northwestern state of Rajasthan had argued it wanted to avoid public unrest by banning the film. On Monday Rajasthan and the central state of Madhya Pradesh, both run by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), asked the court to reconsider its earlier ruling.

“We are not going to modify our earlier order,” the three-judge bench of the Apex Court, headed by Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra said on Tuesday. “States must ensure that law and order must prevail.”

The film, due for release on Thursday ahead of the long Republic Day weekend, has opened for advance bookings elsewhere in India, but theaters in the two states have yet to list it.

The court issued its initial ruling last week at the behest of the film’s producers after four states, including Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, sought to prohibit the film, despite clearance by a film certification panel.

Despite the court ruling, theater owners in the two states, which are among India’s biggest film markets, said they were wary of releasing the film without more explicit support from their state governments.

“We want to release the film, but have no support from the government. When we approached the local police, we were told that we should show the film at our own risk,” Sandeep Jain, who owns seven theaters in Madhya Pradesh, told Reuters.

The top administrative officer in the district of Gurgaon, 30 km (19 miles) from capital New Delhi, imposed a ban on carrying firearms or other articles capable of causing injury, raising slogans and exhibiting placards within 200 meters of cinema halls and multiplexes from Jan. 23-28.

Conservative Hindu groups, such as the Shri Rajput Karni Sena, held protests this week against the film’s release, including blocking traffic in parts of the country.

A Rajput community group, Sarwa Kshatriya Mahasabha, in the central state of Chhattisgarh said they would continue their protests despite the court’s order.

“We have already warned the cinema hall owners and they have given in writing that they will not screen the film. In case they do, we will not be responsible for any consequences,” Rakesh Singh Bais told Reuters.

Reporting by Suchitra Mohanty, Shilpa Jamkhandikar, Sudarshan Varadhan and Jatindra Dash; Writing by Swati Bhat and Euan Rocha; Editing by Rafael Nam and Mark Heinrich