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Salman’s Ram on hold after threats

Mumbai, July 17: Salman Khan can’t play Ram in a film. Reason: he doesn’t belong to the right religion.

A Khan home production based on the Ramayana, starring Salman and his brother Sohail Khan as Ram and Lakshman, has been “put on hold” for two years following threats from a fundamentalist Hindu organisation, which claims that Muslims have no right to play Hindu icons.

“We have put the film on hold. It won’t roll before 2005 or 2006,” co-producer Bunty Walia said. “We don’t know who these people are,” he added.

But Salim Khan, Salman’s scriptwriter father, said the film had been shelved. “My sons don’t want to get into a controversy,” he said, adding Walia received the threats over a period of time.

“There used to be crank calls. They told him (Walia) that the film will be stopped from being shown at the theatres and there would be other kinds of trouble,” said Khan senior. He said since the film would be a big budget project, with possibly Sita and several other roles to be essayed by actors from Hollywood, the Khans couldn’t risk going ahead with the venture. “All this has been put on hold,” said Walia.

Salim Khan declined to name the organisation behind the threats, but an industry insider said it was the Bajrang Dal that played the villain.

The film, being produced by G.S. Entertainment — jointly owned by Walia and Salman’s brother Sohail — was greeted by loud protests, especially from overseas Hindu organisations, when it was announced in February.

A mail at hinduunity.org from a US-based person said Salman Khan as Ram would be an “insult to Hinduism”.

Offices of Asian papers in the UK and US were flooded with letters, one even threatening to get in touch with Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray to stop two Muslim men from playing the maryada purushottam and his brother.

However, Walia said while he was aware of the protests from the start and the project been deferred, such opinion did not really matter and he would go ahead with the film. “The cast will remain the same. Salman and Sohail will play Ram and Lakshman. How can the cast change because of a few threats'”

The Hollywood factor would also be there, he said, but it would take time to work out all the details as it was a big budget film.

Pointing to the fact that religion was not an issue in his family, Salim Khan said it was unfair to single out Salman and Sohail as Muslims who shouldn’t play the heroes of Ramayana.

He said his children’s spouses came from different religions. “Salman’s mother is a Maharashtrian Hindu. But we don’t like to publicise the fact, because religion is not an issue in our family,” Khan senior said.

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