Thursday, June 17, 2004


from Reuters:


AHMEDABAD, India, June 16 (Reuters) - Some cinema halls in India's western state of Gujarat stopped showing a controversial film about a love affair between two women from Wednesday on fears of attacks by hardline Hindu groups.

The move came after two days of violent protests by right-wing Hindus who vandalised cinemas in several cities against the screening of the Bollywood film, "Girlfriend", which they said violated India's traditional culture.

"We have decided not to show the film from today for security reasons," Ashok Purohit, owner of City Pulse group, which runs two multiplexes in Ahmedabad, Gujarat's main city, and Gandhinagar, the state capital, told Reuters.

"Though there have been no attacks on any theatres or any threats from anyone, we're not taking any chances."

Gujarat, one of India's most industrialised states and ruled by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, was torn by the country's worst religious riots in a decade in 2002. Some 1,000 people, mostly Muslims, were slaughtered in the riots.

Cinema owners said they were taking precautions after members of hardline groups such as the Shiv Sena and Bajrang Dal ripped posters and smashed windows in theatres screening the film in various parts of India including Bombay, home of Bollywood.

"Security of the building and the general public coming to watch the movie was paramount while deciding to suspend the shows," said Anshu Vyas, a spokesman of Fun Republic, a countrywide chain of multiplexes.

Groups like the Shiv Sena and Bajrang Dal are part of a growing tribe of cultural vigilantes in India opposed to the country's increasing Westernisation.

In the past, they have launched violent protests against Valentine's Day celebrations in India and have also stopped a film on the plight of widows forced into prostitution, saying they denigrated India's ancient traditions.

Homosexuality is banned in India under a law first framed by British colonialists, but a strong gay rights movement has grown over the past few years in urban centres like Delhi and Bombay.

"Girlfriend" had a lukewarn opening last Friday, but shows at some cinemas have been packed since the controversy erupted.

In Bombay, the film is showing in over a dozen theatres with police protection and crowds have started thronging cinema halls after television channels aired scenes from the film.

"Our shows were sold out yesterday. The crowds have increased after all this controversy," said Pawan Jain, manager of a cinema in central Bombay.

But some said they were disappointed about missing the film.

"Why should they stop screening the film? The choice should be left to individuals," said Abhijat Shah, a college student who came to watch a noon show in Ahmedabad.

"Nobody, whether it's a religious or political group, should decide what's good or bad for me."



Mumbai, June 16 (IANS) :

While "Girlfriend" has invited the ire of the self-proclaimed Hindu culture police and gays, actress Isha Koppiker who plays a lesbian in the film is asking what the fuss is all about.

"What are people protesting about? 'Girlfriend' is a very real film, based on real situations," Isha, who plays the traumatised psycho Tanya in the film, told IANS.

"Having said that, I'd like to say it was just another role for me...nothing more, nothing less. I've already moved on. For me 'Girlfriend' is history. If others want to hold on to it and create controversies because it suits their purpose, they are welcome to their moment of glory. I'll have none of it."

"For me, Tanya was just another character. That she happened to be a lesbian made it a fascinating challenge to play the role. Though some of my close friends are gay I knew nothing about how they think or behave. So I had to work very hard on getting the body language and attitude right. Which I did."

There have been protests in Varanasi, Mumbai, Bhubaneswar by Hindu rightwing activists, who say the film's theme of alternate sexuality is against Indian culture.

Gay rights activists too have opposed "Girlfriend", saying it is a warped, unrealistic take on lesbianism.

But asks Isha: "Now what's the big deal? Why all this fuss? If it offends a certain section of viewers they've the option of not seeing the film, just like I had the option of not doing the role if it offended my sensibilities as a human being and an actress."
But why the explicit love making sequence with Amrita Arora, filled with suggestive groans on the soundtrack?

Reveals Isha, "Frankly, when it came up I did feel uncomfortable about it. But I left the decision entirely to the director. You'll have to ask him about the groans and moans."

Isha seems adamant on moving on, not being part of the gathering storm that threatens to envelope "Girlfriend".

One recalls how staunchly Shabana Azmi and Nandita Das had defended the lesbian relationship of their characters in Deepa Mehta's "Fire".

Says Isha: "I don't disown 'Girlfriend'. But I don't own it either. The director called the shots. I did what I had to as an actress. Now it's over.

"I've worked so hard on being convincing as a butch that now I'm afraid men will be scared away from me."

The controversies remind one of "Fire", the only mainstream film on female homosexuality from any part of the world, until Andy Wachowsky's "Bound" in 1996 where Gina Gershon and Jennifer Tilly played lesbian lovers collaborating in a heist. However, the film had no overt reference to homosexuality.

Nor did the gay hero, played by Tom Hanks, in Jonatham Demme's Oscar-winning "Philadelphia", smooch and get into bed with his screen lover Antonio Banderas to prove his sexuality.

So is the Indian censor board getting more liberal than its Hollywood counterpart?

Censor chief Anupam Kher is, for once, evasive. "I haven't seen 'Girlfriend', nor is it my job to watch every film that comes up for censoring. I've been out of the country with my new play, so I wouldn't know about the explicit content of 'Girlfriend'.

"But yes, I do know that what was submitted for censoring was far more strong in content. Now that the film has been properly graded and censored, there's nothing more to be said on the matter."

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