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Praise for Hrithik, punch for fans
- Mismanaged lucknow mahotsav angers residents

Lucknow, Dec. 10: As the arc lights focused on him, Hrithik Roshan blushed. Outside, hundreds of boys and girls, who had waited for hours to see their idol, fled under police blows, some with their clothes torn.

It was a function Lucknow residents would like to forget in a hurry. The cultural refinement, which this city of nawabs once boasted of, lay in shreds as the 14-day Lucknow Mahotsav ended on the banks of the Gomti last night.

As the actor was being conferred the Sahara Awadh Samman at a glittering function, a running battle between the organisers and Hrithik fans outside the pandal culminated in an orgy of violence, arson, loot and molestation of women.

But nobody inside seemed to have a clue.

Top bureaucrats crowded the front row with their families. The organiser — Zafar Nabi of the Indian Academy for Arts and Culture — stayed put on the stage while Lucknow district magistrate Navneet Sehgal was busy getting himself photographed with the celebrity line-up. There was singer Udit Narayan, writer Jawed Siddiqui and industrialist Lalit Khaitan, but Hrithik, flanked by his filmmaker father Rakesh Roshan and actor Farooque Sheikh, was the star attraction.

Enthralled by the star, the district officials did nothing to stop the violence, in which boys were thrashed, girls molested and their clothes torn.

The mob then pelted stones, looted shops, smashed statues of nawabs and set a portion of the pandal on fire. Over a hundred people were injured in the stampede that ensued even as the function went on inside.

“Why make a fuss over small things' When someone as famous as Hrithik comes, something is bound to happen,” was district magistrate Sehgal’s laconic comment.

The Uttar Pradesh government today said the programme had passed off peacefully and district authorities had received no reports of molestation.

A day before the function, Zafar Nabi, the organiser, had declared that those with 10-rupee entry tickets would also be allowed entry into the main pandal where the star was to be honoured. The result was all roads to the venue were jammed since afternoon.

The organiser denied passes to journalists — “Faltu mein waste karne se kya faida'” he said — but for bureaucrats, invitations were available on request. The invitees outnumbered the seats. When ticket-holders were prevented from entering the venue, violence erupted. The function that began more than 90 minutes late was mismanaged. The governor was made to stand on the stage along with the other celebrities while Udit Narayan sang and the others made speeches.

The only saving grace was Hrithik himself as he blushed and said: “With this award, I can say koi nahin, magar sab kuchh mil gaya. Thank you, Lucknow.”

Unfortunately, his fans could not say the same. “It was shameful and the organisers should be punished,” said Raj Kumar, a university student who broke his right arm in the chaos.

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