May 23: The agents are unknown and the motive unproven. Yet whoever carried out the blasts in Delhi last evening, killing one person and injuring about 50 in two theatres screening Jo Bole So Nihaal, has cinemas across India in the grip of fear.
Despite Delhi police playing down any connection between the blasts and the film, theatres have shut their doors on the Sunny Deol-starrer that has angered Sikh religious bodies.
From Dehra Dun to Chennai and from Ahmedabad to Varanasi, hall-owners needed neither prompting from their associations nor prodding from governments to impose their unofficial ban on the film.
Bengal went one better, with the Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee government taking the initiative to get the movie off cinema screens. “I have asked the police commissioner to ensure that screening is stopped. We haven’t received any directive from the Centre'. We are doing this as a precaution,” Bhattacharjee said this evening.
All seven halls showing the film in Calcutta have stopped screening it. Home secretary Amit Kiran Deb said anti-sabotage checks had been ordered in halls in the city as “we are not ruling out subversive activities in Calcutta”.
But Mumbai, which suffered a series of bomb attacks in 1993 and 2003, bucked the trend.
In the home of Bollywood, only two of the 29 theatres showing the film yanked it off, citing their location in heavily crowded areas. Joint commissioner (law and order) Ahmad Javed, however, said the police have decided to provide protection to Sunny Deol on their own.
Bollywood, too, stood firm. At a news conference organised by the Association of Motion Pictures and Television Programme Producers, the industry pledged to stick by the film and not allow “politics” to hijack filmdom.
Producer Babloo Pachisia and director Rahul Rawail told reporters they would neither withdraw the movie from cinemas nor change its title ' a line lifted from a Sikh prayer ' which has angered even the community’s highest body, the Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee.
“Yesterday’s incident is tragic and the film industry is grieving,” said Pehlaj Nihlani, who heads the association. “But we can’t step back. There were calls from individuals to the makers of the film prior to the blast, too, intended to blackmail them.”
But the Delhi police ruled out a Sikh hand in the blasts, saying the explosives used point to a Kashmiri militant group.
Defence minister Pranab Mukherjee suggested the attacks were linked to the anniversary of the UPA government rather than the film.
These views were echoed by the Delhi Sikh Gurdwara Management which saw in the blasts a conspiracy to malign the Sikhs.
“There have been no protests over the movie in Delhi, whereas in Punjab and Haryana the film had already been withdrawn from theatres. So these blasts cannot be linked to the movie,” committee chief Paramjit Singh Sarna said.
The Central Forensic Science Laboratory is investigating the explosions. “A plastic explosive was used in the blasts. These are malleable and escape metal detectors. This kind of explosive is used by all major militant outfits and is aimed at causing maximum terror in crowded areas,” a police officer said.
Some major militant groups that have used these IED devices and are operating in Delhi include Lashkar-e-Toiba, Jaish-e-Mohammad, Harkat-ul Jehadi Islami, Harkat-ul Ansar and Jammu and Kashmir Islamic Front.
Unconvinced theatre owners in Delhi, however, removed the movie from their listings. They seemed to be in tune with the mood of the public, which largely avoided cinemas despite today being a government holiday.
The fear was compounded by a mild explosion at Nand Nagri area of northeast Delhi, triggered when a man tried to open a wallet lying close to a railway crossing. He sustained injuries in the hands and face and was admitted to hospital.