The film has spurred violent protests in some parts of India over its hints of a romance between a Hindu queen and a Muslim warlord.
Controversy continues to cloud the release plans for Viacom’s Bollywood epic Padmaavat.
Following the film’s fiercely contested opening at home in India on Thursday — where protests among some hard-line Hindu groups occasionally turned violent — the film was slapped with a ban in Malaysia.
The country’s National Film Censorship Board said over the weekend that the movie had been denied permission to screen theatrically in the country. No official explanation was given for the decision, but local media outlets in Malaysia quoted the censorship board’s chairman Mohd Zamberi Abdul Aziz as saying: “The storyline of the film touches on the sensitivities of Islam. That in itself is a matter of grave concern in Malaysia, a Muslim-majority country.”
An elaborately produced 163-minute period epic, Padmaavat tells the story of a Muslim ruler, Alauddin Khilji who battles the Rajput king of Chittor, over the king’s wife, Rani Padmavati. In India, local groups critical of the film have accused the filmmakers of distorting history by apparently suggesting an interfaith romance between the Hindu queen and the Muslim invader. The concerns in Malaysia appear to be the same, albeit from a mirror-image religious perspective.
The film’s director, Sanjay Leela Bhansali, has denied the allegations, saying that the film was inspired by an epic poem and isn’t meant to be regarded as a treatment of history.
India’s censorship board approved the film, but requested the inclusion of a disclaimer stating that the film “does not claim historical accuracy.” Still, cinemas across northern Indian states such as Rajasthan, Gujarat and others decided not to show the movie over fears of violence and vandalism.
Padmaavat‘s local distributor in Malaysia is expected to formally appeal the censorship board’s decision on Tuesday. Notably, the film has opened in other Muslim-majority territories, including Pakistan and Dubai, without cuts or controversy.
Malaysia has backed down from controversial censorship decisions before. Last year it banned Disney’s live-action Beauty and the Beast over the film’s much-hyped fleeting “gay moment.” After the decision invited unflattering criticism both at home and overseas, the board revised the judgment, allowing the film to screen with a PG13 rating.
Padmaavat stars Deepika Padukone, who made her Hollywood debut in Vin Diesel’s xXx: The Return of Xander Cage last year. The film is co-produced by Viacom18 Media, the U.S. conglomerate’s India joint venture.