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Bollywood Film Offends Indian Muslims


NEW DELHI, June 25 (News Agencies) - A Bollywood film on the bloody events surrounding the partition of the sub-continent has triggered angry protests among Indian Muslims, who say it denigrates Islam.

Police in the western city of Ahmedabad said arsonists on Monday torched part of a cinema screening "Gadar" (Anarchy).

The protests came less than 24 hours after similar incidents in the Indian capital where police arrested 10 Muslim protestors for tearing down posters for the film displayed outside a central cinema.

According to leaders of the Muslim community, the film has many objectionable scenes including one in which the heroine, a Muslim girl, offers prayers while wearing a bindi -- a Hindu religious mark -- on her forehead.

"A Muslim woman never wears a bindi on her forehead," said Syed Shahabuddin, a prominent Muslim politician.

"I am against the wrong depiction of Islamic culture in films. The scene is an example of wrong depiction of a Muslim woman," he added.

Gadar, a love saga set in 1947, depicts a Sikh truck driver falling in love and eventually marrying a beautiful Muslim girl, against the backdrop of the partition of the subcontinent into Hindu majority India and Muslim majority Pakistan. 

The partition sparked off an orgy of sectarian fighting between the two communities which left an estimated one million people dead.

The film is Zee Network's first mega-budget feature film production.

Zee is India's largest private television network, with close affiliations to radical Hindu right-wing groups.

The film was shot on location in the northern Indian states of Punjab, Himachal Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh and has Bollywood stars Sunny Deol and Amisha Patel in the lead roles.

"No one is objecting to the way the partition theme has been handled," Shahabuddin said. "It is the way Islam has been portrayed that is being objected to." 

The film also showed the hero having to say,"Hindustan murdabad," or "Death to India," before converting to Islam, which was also described as highly objectionable by the Indian Muslim community. 

"This makes no sense," said Zafar-ul Islam Khan, editor of India's only Muslim Internet magazine, milligazette.com.

"The issue is sensitive and touches raw nerves on all sides. It is possible people do such provocative things at times to get attention." 

There are around 140 million Muslims in India, the second largest grouping in the world after Indonesia.

"Gadar's" producer, Nitin Keni, says the film never set out to be a depiction of Islamic culture and denies that any slights were intended.

"When the villain in the film asks the hero to denounce India, what we mean to show is the politics involved. The villain does not want the hero to embrace Islam and so he puts this impossible condition before him," Keni said. 

"If we put this scene in, it was for story telling, not to hurt any one's sentiments."

Keni also said the theme of partition and religion was handled as sensitively as possible, an argument dismissed by prominent film critic Mohammed Shamim.

"There is a tendency these days to ignore religious susceptibilities," he said. 

"Such things are not done unwittingly, they are done knowingly and aim to use religion to make money which is really despicable."

Arguing that "Gadar" was a commercial film in which a certain element of fiction was justified, Keni said the protests had come from a very small minority.

Keni said some leaders of India's Muslim community had recently seen the film and stated that it was worthy of awards. 

"No one at any point of time said any scenes had to be cut," Keni said, refuting reports that a prominent Shiite leader requested certain scenes of the film to be deleted.

Widespread Hindu-Muslim violence erupted after Hindu extremists demolished the Babri mosque at Ayodhya in 1992. Hindu-Muslim relations remain tense over a number of issues including Indian-Pakistani dispute over the Muslim majority state of Kashmir. 


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