Padmaavat: Bollywood Movie on Muslim King and Hindu Queen Causing Violent Protests in India

Thousands of police officers in riot gear patrolled cinemas across India on Thursday (January 25) amid fears of violence due to the release of a movie on a legendary queen.

Bollywood movie "Padmaavat" features the story of Queen Padmavati, who belonged to the Hindu Rajput caste.

Hard-line Hindus and some members of the Rajput caste believe that the movie is disrespectful of their culture and falsely portrays the queen, whom historians regard as a fictional character. People have been protesting against the release of the movie for months.

Distributors in several states said they would not show the Bollywood epic due to security concerns. The movie, however, opened in some 5000 cinemas across the country.

Para-military forces patrolled theaters in several cities including Mumbai and the capital New Delhi.

Earlier this week, protesters attacked shops and set alight a bus and motorbikes and damaged hundreds of cars in several areas including in Mumbai, Gujarat state's Ahmedabad city, and across Uttar Pradesh state.

In Gurgaon, a city northwest of New Delhi, protesters attacked a school bus, with a video showing teachers and students crouching on the floor as demonstrators pelted the vehicle with stones.

Why is the movie controversial?

Padmaavat movie
An Indian policeman gestures at the entrance of Ritz cinema hall schduled to screen Bollywood film 'Padmaavat' in the northern hill town of Shimla on January 25, 2018. A controversial Indian movie that has angered Hindu extremists finally opens on January 25 amid heightened security owing to fears of widespread riots. Police are on high alert across several states after protesters pledged to disrupt the release of 'Padmaavat', a Bollywood epic about a mythical Hindu queen. AFP/Getty Images

Legend has it that Queen Padmavati, living between the 13th and 14th century, immolated herself to protect her honor after a Muslim King, Alauddin Khilji, infatuated with her beauty, invaded the town of Chittor to capture her.

Although Alauddin Khilji and the invasion of Chittor have been documented, little historical evidence corroborates the existence of Padmavati. However, many people venerate her and regard her as a historical figure.

Anti-"Padmaavat" protesters say the movie, based on the 16th century poem by Malik Muhammad Jayasi, is disrespectful of their culture. They also allege the movie contains a dream sequence of an intimate scene between the King and the Queen.

"Padmaavat" director Sanjay Leela Bhansali strongly denied that such a sequence exists, but protests have rocked parts of India ahead of the release of the movie, which had been delayed for two months.

Protests escalated after India's Supreme Court ruled against an appeal to block the release of the movie in November 2017.

Last January, Shri Rajput Karni Sena, a Rajput caste organization, attacked Bhansali and vandalized the set during filming in Rajasthan.

On Thursday, the group's chief, Lokendra Kalvi, condemned the attack on the school bus, but blamed violence on Bhansali in an interview with Times Now.