NEW DELHI — A member of India’s Hindu nationalist ruling party has offered a 100 million-rupee ($1.5 million) reward to anyone who beheads the lead actress and the director of the yet-to-be released Bollywood film, “Padmavati,” over its alleged handling of the relationship between a Hindu queen and a Muslim ruler.
Suraj Pal Amu, a Bharatiya Janata Party leader from the northern state of Haryana, offered the bounty against actress Deepika Padukone and filmmaker Sanjay Leela Bhansali Nov. 19. The film’s producers postponed the release of the film, which was set to be in theaters Dec. 1, the same day. Speaking at a public rally that was reported by several local news outlets, Amu also added that the film would not be allowed to release at all.
“Padmavati” is based on a 16th century Sufi epic poem, “Padmavat,” a fictional account of a brave and beautiful Rajput queen who chose to kill herself rather than be captured by the Muslim sultan of Delhi, Allaudin Khilji. Over centuries of its retelling, the epic has come to be seen as history, even though there is little historical evidence.
Padukone plays the role of Padmini, the legendary queen who committed “jauhar,” the medieval Rajput practice in which women of royal households walked into funeral fires to embrace death over the dishonor of being taken captive.
“Padmavati” has been in trouble since the beginning of 2017, with fringe groups in the western state of Rajasthan attacking the film’s set, threatening to burn down theaters that show it and even physically attacking Bhansali in January.
Most of the anger at the film appears to stem from allegations that Bhansali has distorted history by filming a romantic dream sequence between the main protagonists of the film. Bhansali has denied the allegations.
Earlier this month, the head of the Rajput Karni Sena in Rajasthan said Padukone should have her nose cut — a symbol of public humiliation — for being part of a film that allegedly insulted the famed queen.
India’s 1.3 billion-strong democracy is the largest in the world, but despite significant economic progress over the last few decades its politics are held hostage by a complex mix of religion and caste. Books and movies have found themselves at the receiving end of threats of violence and bans because they either offend one religious or caste group, or are deemed offensive to Indian culture in general.
In the past, India’s film censor board rejected the erotic drama, “Fifty Shades of Grey,” and Hollywood movies that appear on Indian screens are routinely scrubbed of sex scenes. “The Da Vinci Code” was banned in the Indian state of Goa, which has a large Christian population, because religious groups objected.
In 2014, the publishing house Penguin India pulled from shelves and destroyed all copies of American historian Wendy Doniger’s “The Hindus: An Alternative History” after protests and a lawsuit from a Hindu right-wing group. The group’s main objection was that the book described Hindu mythological texts as fictional.
India-born writer Salman Rushdie’s book, “The Satanic Verses,” has been banned here since 1998, since many Muslims consider it blasphemous. Rushdie was forced to cancel a 2012 appearance at the Jaipur Literary Festival amid protests and threats by prominent Muslim clerics.