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Indian cinemas under pressure over homophobia movie

NEW DELHI: Cinemas in the north Indian city of Aligarh were under mounting pressure yesterday to stop screening a movie set in the metropolis that tackles homophobia, following protests from right wing religious groups. The movie “Aligarh”, which opened nationally last week, is based on a true story about a university professor suspended from his post after a television news crew filmed him having sex with a rickshaw puller.

Shrinivas Ramchandra Siras was teaching at Aligarh Muslim University in 2010 when his private life made headline news in an undercover sting operation. He briefly fought to be reinstated, but was found dead in his apartment in suspicious circumstances two months later. The film has received favorable reviews and shines a rare spotlight on homosexuality in socially conservative India where gay sex is still illegal. But Aligarh mayor Shakuntala Bharti said the movie should be barred there for “tarnishing” the city with homosexuality, sparking an outcry on social media from gay rights supporters.

“It is giving a bad name to the city. It is shameful and we don’t support it,” Bharti told reporters. Aligarh cinemas appeared to have scrapped plans to show the movie after street protests last week by fringe Muslim group the Millat Bedari Muhim Committee. “After this movie, people will obviously link the name of our glorious city, with a rich cultural history, to homosexuality, so we obviously have an objection,” the committee’s secretary, Jasim Mohammad said. “After our objections and the support they have received, the cinemas are not showing the movie,” Mohammad said.

The city’s cinemas themselves could not be contacted for comment on Sunday. But the Indian Express newspaper said those initially running it had now cancelled screenings. The movie’s director, Hansal Mehta, expressed his disappointment on Twitter, saying “so Aligarh has killed Prof Siras again”. Opposition Congress leader Manish Tewari, a former broadcasting minister, said “sad some bigots in #Aligarh not able to deal with movie Aligarh”. Police initially suspected Siras committed suicide after traces of poison were detected in his body, but they later made several arrests, although no one was convicted and the case was ultimately dropped. – AFP

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