Marilyn Gore and Sujith Nambiar (Ahmedabad): With the Gujarat Multiplex Owners’ Association (GMOA) saying it has decided to not screen Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Padmaavat despite the Supreme Court of India green-lighting it, the protests against the film seem to have achieved their purpose.

At least 30 two-wheelers were burnt, the windscreens of a few cars and an ambulance were smashed and several storefronts were damaged by fire as the protestors targeted multiplexes in the city late on Tuesday. But the damage could have been “a lot worse”, GMOA director Rakesh Patel and the Ahmedabad police said, even as demonstrations and violence continued against the contentious film across the state as well as other parts of the country, a day before its scheduled release.

Patel attributed the “limited damage” to the police presence over the past few days.  “Police personnel have been giving us round-the-clock protection for the past four days…. If it wasn’t for them, the damage would have been a lot worse,” he said, adding that his multiplex, Wide Angle, suffered “minimal damage.”

He estimated that the mob of 1,100–1,200 began as a candle-lit procession with the requisite permissions. “It was peaceful for a while, but then turned violent. There was no way of knowing what would happen next.”

According to Ahmedabad city police commissioner A.K. Singh, Tuesday night’s violence was aimed more at creating panic than being a targeted attack. He said 20–35 police personnel—armed with rifles, batons and teargas—were deployed at each of the 18 single- and multi-screen theatres in the city. More than 30 police personnel were stationed at Himalaya Mall, which GMOA’s Patel said was the worst affected. 

“It is likely that the miscreants did not enter the malls because of the police presence,” Singh said, explaining what seemed to be a roving mob.

“We did not use extreme measures despite being equipped to do so, since there were a number of already panicked civilians attempting to leave the various malls, especially at Himalaya Mall,” Singh said, adding, “We apprehended 44 people—mostly from rural Ahmedabad—during the incident, and now have a list of about 115 suspects, including seven conspirators. Combing operations are still on, but we have booked four cases of rioting.”

Who’s behind the violence?

Shri Rajput Karni Sena chief Lokendra Singh Kalvi, while addressing the media on Wednesday, said his organization will not allow the film to be released, but denied the allegations that it was responsible for the violence in Ahmedabad.

Ahmedabad police commissioner Singh said that while none of those arrested so far are known Karni Sena members, the authorities are yet to rule out the group from the list of suspects.

The Karni Sena has spearheaded the protests against the film since it went into production, claiming it distorts history. The Central Board for Film Certification (CBFC) late last year appointed a panel of historians to look into the claims and finally cleared the film with some changes on condition that its name be changed from Padmavati to Padmaavat.

The Gujarat, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Haryana governments subsequently said the film would not be screened in their states—decisions that were quashed last week by the Supreme Court of India. The apex court on Tuesday then dismissed pleas by Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh to block the release of Padmaavat and directed the states to maintain law and order.

Originally scheduled to be released on 1 December, the film is based on the ‘Mahakavya Padmavat’, written by Malik Muhammad Jaisi, the 16th century Awadhi poet. Deepika Padukone plays the titular character in the film, which also features Ranveer Singh as Alauddin Khilji, the ruler of the Delhi Sultanate, and Shahid Kapoor as Ratan Singh of Chittor.