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Saturday, December 5, 1998 Published at 14:12 GMT

World: South Asia

Film sent back to Indian censors

Fire: Film-makers want it to continue being shown

The Indian authorities have withdrawn from cinemas the controversial film Fire, and ordered that it be re-assessed by the country's censors.

The film, which features a lesbian relationship, has prompted violent protests from the right-wing ultra-nationalist Hindu party, Shiv Sena.

The party says the movie is an affront to Hindu values and Indian culture. It says it is immoral and a bad influence on the youth.

Members of the party forcibly stopped the film being shown in Bombay and Delhi, and damaged cinema halls where it was being screened.

Distributors of the film withdrew it from theatres in Bombay and neighbouring towns like Poona.

Film-makers have pressed for its continued showing. Bollywood stars in Bombay - India's film city - have rallied in support and sought the intervention of India's Supreme Court to allow its screening.

[ image: Shiv Sena say Fire is against Indian culture]
Shiv Sena say Fire is against Indian culture
They regard the Shiv Sena campaign as an attack their rights of freedom of expression.

In a court petition, 10 leading Bollywood stars and film-makers said the rule of law had never been so violated by those supposed to enforce it.

The petition said Fire had received 14 international awards and was showing to packed houses in Bombay since its release three weeks ago.

A mention was also made of the favourable reviews the film had been getting in the Indian media for what some see as its sensitive and bold treatment of the hitherto taboo subject of female bonding and lesbian relationships.

It is not the first time that a film has been opposed by Shiv Sena. A film on the Bombay communal riots of 1992-93 was released only after its makers incorporated changes ordered by the Shiv Sena leadership.

This time around, members of Shiv Sena, who see themselves as custodians of Indian culture, will not be satisfied by anything less than a complete ban.

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