The release of a Bollywood film, Padmavati, has been delayed indefinitely amid continued protests from Hindu groups, with an official from India’s ruling BJP placing a bounty of 10 crore rupees ($1.5m) on the heads of the film’s actress Deepika Padukone and its director, Sanjay Leela Bhansali.
“We will reward the ones beheading them, with 10 crore rupees, and also take care of their family’s needs,” Suraj Pal Amu, chief media coordinator for the BJP in northern Haryana state, told ANI news agency on Sunday.
The BJP, which also runs the central government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, distanced itself from the provocative statement.
“A show cause notice has been sent to him. There is rule of law in Haryana and no one can issue such fatwas,” Anil Jain, a BJP spokesman, told the ANI news agency.
But that has not deterred Amu from his diatribe against the film set in the 14th century. On Monday, he threatened to burn down theatre screens that show the film loosely based on an epic poem, Padmavat, penned more than 400 years ago.
Hindu groups allege the film distorts history by depicting Rajput queen Padmini – the protagonist of the film – in poor light. They have raised objections to a Hindu queen romancing a Muslim king.
Members of the Rajput caste in Rajasthan state, the home of the legendary Rajput queen, are demanding a ban on Padmavati for “disrespecting the sentiments of the community”.
Al Jazeera could not reach BJP spokespersons despite repeated attempts.
Last week, Padukone said that she was only answerable to the national censor board, referring to the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC).
“Where have we reached as a nation? We have regressed,” she said.
Following threats, Padukone has pulled out of a global entrepreneurship summit scheduled to be held in the southern city of Hyderabad.
Modi and Ivanka Trump, the daughter of the US president, are expected to attend the event.
“These threats of beheadings, etc are a perverted form of politics which India was busy condemning all this while. And now India is the source of such politics. We have to fight it out here,” Ashis Nandy, a leading Indian sociologist, told Al Jazeera.
Freedom under threat
Public intellectuals and rights activists say that freedom of expression is under threat as the BJP under Modi is pandering to Hindu nationalists, its support base.
On Monday, the Supreme Court refused to ban the film and instead asked the CBFC to take a final call.
But the CBFC is under intense pressure as governments in BJP-ruled states as well as the opposition Congress government in Punjab state have called for a ban on the film.
Earlier, the Karni Sena (Karni Army) told Al Jazeera that it was a matter of honour for the Rajput community.
Nandy says India is becoming a satirist’s delight.
“I think it is a very pathetic scene. The bankruptcy of political parties is rather obvious. Democratic institutions in India are under threat in this kind of a situation,” Nandy told Al Jazeera.
The film is an adaptation of Padmavat, an epic poem written by Malik Muhammad Jayasi, a 16th century poet.
The main character of the poem was queen Padmini who jumped into a fire “to save her honour” from a medieval Muslim king, Alauddin Khilji.
Historians say the protagonist in the film is a fictional character, and there are no historical accounts proving her existence.
Should Muslims demand to see #Padmavati before it releases, just like Karni Sena is demanding? The Rajputs want to check if the movie ‘protects the honour of a Rajput queen’. Can Muslims also check if the movie protects the honour of a Muslim king? Logical, no? 😂 #justsaying
— Irena Akbar (@irenaakbar) November 17, 2017
“In the contemporary period, there is no mention of this event, no accounts of Padmavati by Amir Khusrau, a prolific writer of the era and a courtier of Alauddin Khilji. This is misuse of both fiction and history. There is no historical evidence of this Padmavati event – this story is a poet’s imagination,” Aditya Mukherjee, professor of history from Jawaharlal Nehru University, had earlier told Al Jazeera.
Bhansali, the director of the film, had to issue a video statement saying he had kept in mind the “Rajput dignity and respect” while making the period drama.
Many people on social media have questioned the idea of societal sanction for a film based on a fictional character.
“If Rajputs can examine a fictional movie for authenticity before release, why can’t Brahmins, Muslims or Biharis [who are] often stereotyped,” Madhavan Narayanan, a senior Indian journalist, said on Twitter.