February 18, 2008 / 10:40 AM / in 12 years

'Jodhaa Akbar' panned, sparks protests

MUMBAI (Reuters) - A film about the fabled romance of a Mughal emperor, whose rule stands as a symbol for religious harmony in India, has been panned by many critics and sparked protests over the historical accuracy of his on-screen love life.

Bollywood stars Hrithik Roshan (L) and Aishwarya Rai Bachchan attend the music release function of their new film 'Jodhaa Akbar', in Mumbai January 9, 2008. REUTERS/Punit Paranjpe

Whether Emperor Akbar, a Muslim, married Hindu Rajput princess Jodhaa some 450 years ago is debated by historians, but the alliance has fed folklore of an enduring love in a country scarred by a history of religious bloodbaths.

“Jodhaa Akbar”, which stars former Miss World Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, plays out the royal courtship to the backdrop of palace intrigues and epic battles.

Some Rajput groups attacked movie halls and tore posters of the film, saying it was historically inaccurate, and that Jodhaa was in fact Akbar’s daughter-in-law.

For fear of violent protests, the film was not released in Rajasthan — an important Bollywood market and the place where many Rajputs hail from.

Protesters disrupted a screening at a mall in Gurgaon, while a mob attacked a cinema hall in Ahmedabad, forcing multiplexes to temporarily close, the Press Trust of India reported.

This was just the latest controversy to hit Bollywood, raising criticism India was becoming an increasingly intolerant place for artists.

Last year, effigies of Richard Gere and Bollywood actress and Britain’s “Celebrity Big Brother” winner Shilpa Shetty were burnt after he kissed her on the cheek at a public event.

An Indian court even ordered Gere’s arrest to face charges of obscenity.

The Uttar Pradesh government briefly banned Bollywood star Madhuri Dixit’s much-awaited comeback film “Aaja Nachle” because a song contained a line that some saw as insulting a lower caste.

“Such is the climate of intolerance in today’s India that it is almost impossible to write a book or make a movie without having to cope with a mob of protesters,” wrote columnist Vir Sanghvi in the Hindustan Times.

Most critics have panned Ashutosh Gowarikar’s “Jodhaa Akbar”, which cost $10 million to make, a substantial amount by Bollywood standards.

“Gowarikar goes into unnecessary depths and sub-plots, barring which the movie would have been a treat to watch,” said film critic Hetal Adesara.

Trade analysts say the opening weekend collections have been good, but the film was unlikely to last long at the theatres.

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