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Monday, 7 February, 2000, 15:58 GMT
Shooting of Indian film banned

Deepa Mehta (C) held a vigil with cast members Shabana Azmi and Nandita Das

Indian officials have stopped the filming of a controversial film for two weeks following protests from hardline Hindu organisations.

The film, Water, directed by acclaimed Indian filmmaker, Deepa Mehta, is set in the Hindu holy city of Varanasi, in north India.

There is a lot of resentment in the city
Varanasi district magistrate Alok Kumar
Last week, the Indian Government permitted Ms Mehta to go ahead and shoot the film after minor changes to the script.

But on Sunday, shooting had to be scrapped following violent protests which included an alleged suicide-attempt by an activist.

Varanasi district officials said the order banning the filming would only be lifted if the threat of violence receded.

Shiv Sena activists protest against the film
"There is a lot of resentment in the city. There was a suicide bid, there were protests yesterday and today which have taken a violent turn," District Magistrate Alok Kumar said.

Deepa Mehta and members of her production, which included celebrated actress and MP, Shabana Azmi, held a vigil outside the magistrate's court to protest against the ban.

"Law and order was just an excuse made by the state government through the district magistrate to stop the shooting," Ms Azmi said.

The state is governed by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, whose members are alleged to have targeted the production for its 'anti-Hindu' theme.

Violent protests

On Sunday, a member of the hardline Hindu Shiv Sena party tied stones around his waist and jumped into the Ganges river in an alleged attempt to commit suicide.

I think [it] should be resolved through dialogue
Home Minister L K Advani
He was rescued and rushed to hospital.

Water is the third in a trilogy of films on the 'elements' and is set in Varanasi.

Protesters were unhappy over reports that the film shows a relationship between a high-caste widow and a low-caste Hindu.

They were also angry over rumours that it showed Hindu widows being forced into prostitution because of financial hardship.

In 1998, the Shiv Sena party led violent protests against the screening of the film Fire, the first in Deepa Mehta's trilogy.

It centred on contemporary India's attitude towards women and included a controversial lesbian love scene.

India's Home Minister, L K Advani, said the state government had been asked to provide security for the film's crew.

"I think that decision of filming of Water should be resolved through dialogues between both the sides," Mr Advani said.

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Plug pulled on sacred city film
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