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Sunday, February 14, 1999 Published at 11:40 GMT

World: South Asia

India approves lesbian film

Protesters have torn down posters for the film

The Indian Government has accepted a decision by censors to allow a controversial film about a lesbian relationship to be screened without any cuts.

The internationally-acclaimed film, Fire, provoked violent protests from Hindu militants when it was first shown last year, prompting the government to refer it back to the censors in December.

Sanjeev Srivastava: Another round of protests in Bombay looks likely
"The Censor Board has said no cuts are needed and we have accepted that decision," Information and Broadcasting Minister Pramod Mahajan was quoted as saying.

Activists from the right-wing ultra-nationalist Hindu party, Shiv Sena, attacked a number of cinemas showing the film last year, including some in the capital, Delhi and in Bombay.

The Shiv Sena is a regional ally of the Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee's BJP.

'Affront' to Hindu culture

The party said the film was an affront to India's centuries-old Hindu culture. It said it was immoral and a bad influence on the youth.

[ image: The subject of lesbianism is a controversial one for Indian cinema]
The subject of lesbianism is a controversial one for Indian cinema
Some cinemas refused to screen it, fearing they would face similar attacks.

There were also rival protests by lesbian and women's rights groups demanding that the film be shown uncut.

Several leading Hindi film personalities subsequently appealed to India's Supreme Court, which did not rule on the censorship issue but ordered government protection for the director and actors.

The film - by the Canadian-based Indian director, Deepa Mehta - depicts the sexual relationship of two women trapped in unhappy marriages.

The BBC Correspondent in Bombay, Sanjeev Srivastava, says a second certificate from the Censor Board is unlikely to change the situation much on the ground in Bombay and observers expect another round of confrontation if the film is re-released.

The decision to allow the film to be screened uncut has been described by Shiv Sena as "unfortunate."

However, it has been welcomed by the Indian film industry.

India's Film Censor Board routinely orders cuts of sexually suggestive scenes in Hindi-language films, but in the past has generally allowed English-language films to be screened uncensored.

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