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Sena boys can’t stand Girlfriend
- Film yanked off Mumbai screens after rampage

Mumbai, June 14: Isha Koppikar and Amrita Arora have been separated and pulled away from their tight clasp.

Posters of Girlfriend, Karan Razdan’s film with a lesbian theme, lie strewn around Premier theatre in Dadar with pictures of both the leading actors defaced and stamped upon.

“That is how hateful these people are,” said Manish Singh, a Bharatiya Vidyarthi Sena activist, as another movie fell prey to the anger of Mumbai’s self-appointed morality guardians.

In theatres across Mumbai, Shiv Sena activists — this time under the banner of their students’ wing — violently protested the screening of Girlfriend, where Koppikar is shown as a lesbian in a darkly obsessive relationship with Arora. Around 100 activists first ran through Premier and tore posters and hoardings.

They then barged in and tried to damage the screen, forcing the management to intervene and plead “forgiveness”.

The group left after they were assured that the screening of the movie would be stopped at the interval of the matinee show. By then news of the rampaging mob had spread and authorities at Chitra, another theatre showing the movie, were ready with their offer to cancel the shows. In Mulund, another group damaged a bus shuttling around with a hoarding of Girlfriend.

The Sena announced that the agitation against the “anti-culture” film would spread throughout the state and the country if the distributors did not recall the prints immediately. The agitation had its echo in Varanasi, too, where activists of the Kranti Shiv Sena burnt the film’s posters and banners.

It was in Varanasi that Deepa Mehta, while shooting for Water, was forced to leave with her crew in 2000. Water, the protesters had then said, portrayed the widows of Varanasi in bad light showing them as prostitutes, a charge that Mehta fought till the end.

The movie never saw the light of day as the producers had incurred losses worth crores because of the prolonged agitation in that city.

The Vidyarthi Sena said in Mumbai today that it was forced to take such action after being “inundated with calls from disgusted families who came out denouncing the deplorable film”. It was almost a repeat of the massive protests against another film that had a lesbian theme, Mehta’s Fire.

Angered by the film which had Shabana Azmi and Nandita Das playing characters who take refuge in each other’s arms after being shunned by their husbands in various ways, Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray had fumed that “lesbianism doesn’t exist in Hindu families”.

Fire was forced out of theatres in 1998 after Thackeray personally led the agitation. The film could be screened only after it was referred back to the censor board and cleared by the Supreme Court. That the characters were called Sita and Radha added fuel to the fire, prompting Thackeray to say: “Why are the names of the lesbian characters after Hindu goddesses' Why can’t they have names like Shabana, Saira and Nazma'”

Director Razdan, now suddenly at the centre of the unsavoury episode, stood his ground. Egged on by other angry filmmakers and actors, he said the protests were unfortunate and damaging. “How can the country run if such violence is permitted'” he told reporters.

“My film is made on a mature subject and handled in a mature way. Moreover, the film does not hurt any religious or spiritual sentiment. Nor is there any nudity or vulgar kissing scenes. The theme is realistic. Some lesbian groups have in fact come out in the open about the trend.”

Filmmaker Mahesh Bhatt was quick on the draw. “Violence cannot be a means of protest in a civilised world. More important, these people who tore down posters don’t have the moral right to point fingers. They should instead take up the issue of women’s death in poverty-ridden Indian villages,” he said.

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