Controversial film 'Aligarh', based on the life of an AMU professor who was sacked on charges of homosexuality, was on Sunday not screened in Aligarh even as the city Mayor from the Bharatiya Janata Party strongly backed an official ban, claiming the movie is a "conspiracy" to defame the city.
"The film was not screened today. It is unconstitutional self-proclaimed ban by some fringe group. It is a kind of threat. Even the city Mayor is supporting the fringe group," the film's director Hansal Mehta told PTI.
"It is an extra-constitutional ban on screening of the film," the film's writer Apurva Asrani said.
A fringe group called the Millat Bedari Muhim Committee has arm-twisted exhibitors in Aligarh into cancelling screening of the biopic, it has been alleged.
The group strongly objected to the title Aligarh, stating that the film -- based on Professor Ramchandra Siras who was suspended from Aligarh Muslim University in 2010 after he was filmed having consensual sex with a man -- sullied the reputation of the city.
Supporting the ban, Aligarh Mayor Shakuntala Bharti said, "We had issued a warning that we will not allow this film to be shown in the city at any cost. Ten days ago, we lodged our protest against the screening of the movie."
"Aligarh tameez aur tehzeeb ka shahar hai. Vishwa vikhyat kavi Neeraj ka shahar hai hamara Aligarh (Aligarh is a city of culture and refinement. It is the city of world famous poet Neeraj). AligarhMuslimUniversity is world renowned. Are they trying to malign the city by naming the film after it? The city is being tarnished by showing that such people also live here," said Bharti, who is from the BJP.
"This movie is against our culture. It is against the syncretic Ganga Jamuni culture of this city. It will bring a bad name to our city," she said.
Bharti said, "I would not have objected if the movie had been given some other name but we cannot accept such bad publicity for our city".
The Mayor said she would meet the district authorities on Monday to seek an official ban on the movie.
District authorities said no ban has been imposed on the film, which released on Friday, but the threat against the screening and finding only few moviegoers on day one, appears to have forced the theatre owner in a multiplex here to call off screening.
Actor Rajkummar Rao, who plays journalist Deepu Sebastian in the movie, said, "Those opposing the movie should watch it before coming to any conclusion. We are not maligning the city's name. Siras was very attached to the city and lived the last 30 years of his life in Aligarh. The film is not promoting homosexuality."
The film was screened in multiplex on Friday but has not been shown since Saturday and the owners have also stopped online booking without assigning any reason, an official said.
Hansal said opposition to the film is "homophobic". "It has stirred up a debate within Aligarh society... It has nothing to do with homosexuality."
"We will wait and watch. I have been just contacted by the ministry of entertainment in Uttar Pradesh," he said on being asked what was his next course of action in the light of the film not being screened in the city.
Two AMU professors, including film critic Asim Siddiqui, who saw the film on February 26, claimed the cinema owners might have themselves stopped the screening due to poor public response.
"There were only a handful of people watching the movie that (Friday) evening. In all probability the owners of the theatre have stopped showing the movie on their own and have used the reported threats as a ruse," Siddiqui said.
The Millat Bedari Muhim Committee (MBMC), which has a number of former AMU students, had written to Information and Broadcasting Minister Arun Jaitley seeking a ban on the film.
MBMC Secretary Jasim Mohammad said his organisation was opposed to the biopic because "it has distorted facts".
When contacted AMU Vice Chancellor Lt Gen (retd) Zamiruddin Shah said, "I am against the very idea of banning a movie just because a small section finds something objectionable. This only gives it unnecessary publicity."
"Aligarh", starring Manoj Bajpayee, has received wide acclaim. It is based on the life of AMU professor Ramchandra Siras who was suspended from his job because of his sexual orientation. He later committed suicide.
Manoj re-tweeted a fan's post, which said the "ban" on the film is "ridiculous". "They will miss watching a great movie! @BajpayeeManoj," the tweet further read.
Actor Ayushmann Khurrana tweeted, "Authorities feel its gay content is defaming Aligarh. Hmm. Why don't they keep a new name like homophobic-garh."