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Hindu Activists Vandalize Theater

December 3, 1998

NEW DELHI, India (AP) _ Hindu nationalists smashed windows and marquees at a movie theater today, angry about the showing of a film with lesbian scenes and themes challenging Indian family traditions.

The half-dozen men and women also trashed a restaurant next door to the Regal Theater in New Delhi’s Connaught Circus business district.

No one was injured, and the vandals were blocked from entering the hall where the film ``Fire″ was showing to a full house.

Reporters had been warned of the attack by activists for Shiv Sena, a Hindu nationalist political party allied with the governing Bharatiya Janata Party. J.B. Goel, president of Shiv Sena’s New Delhi chapter, said scenes in the film of women making love were ``objectionable and not in keeping with Indian culture.″

``Fire″ tells the story of women in unhappy marriages to two brothers. As is often the case in India, the brothers, their wives and their mother all live under one roof. The sisters-in-law, seeking comfort from each other, develop a lesbian relationship.

The film takes on issues rarely addressed in India, including the plight of women in tradition-minded families who are expected to suppress their desires while serving their husbands and elders. Homosexuality also is rarely discussed in India.

The theater closed for the rest of the day but the manager, Ravi Sharma, said it would continue to show the film, which debuted a few weeks ago and has been packing theaters.

India’s film industry churns out hundreds of films every year, but most are song-and-dance romances or thrillers that reinforce traditional themes.

On Wednesday, dozens Shiv Sena activists stormed two theaters in Bombay, India’s film capital, and prevented the movie from being shown.

``Fire,″ filmed in both English and Hindi, has won several international awards. Film critics were amazed when Indian censors allowed the movie to be screened almost uncut and did not snip the scenes of the two women kissing _ which is rarely allowed on screen in heterosexual relationships.

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