Mumbai, With more than 1,000 Shiv Sena workers being arrested for vandalism and the Maharashtra government rallying around the Shah Rukh Khan starrer “My Name Is Khan”, several theatre owners banked on the earnest assurances of security and reopened advance booking Wednesday evening.
The much-discussed film, targeted by the Shiv Sena after Shah Rukh spoke out for Pakistani cricketers being included in the Indian Premier League (IPL) would release across Mumbai this Friday under what will probably be an unprecedented security cover.
The Shiv Sena’s grandstanding continued with leaders like Manohar Joshi saying that Shah Rukh “would have to apologise” for his comments and that the party’s struggle was in the “national interest”. But the state government pulled out all the stops to ensure that it did not get away with its threats and that people felt safe enough to go watch the film.
More than 1,000 Shiv Sena workers were arrested from Tuesday night to Wednesday morning under various charges like trespassing and rioting, and Chief Minister Ashok Chavan reiterated: “Providing security to all people is the duty of the government and we shall do it; nobody will be allowed to break the law.”
His home minister Ramesh Bagwe said strict action would be taken against those preventing “patrons from taking the law in their hands”.
Mumbai Police guidelines were exhaustive – first three rows being kept vacant for security personnel who would also cover the foyer and other areas, an I-card check of all patrons, CCTV cameras inside and outside all theatres to record all activity and more.
Some theatre owners, who had hurriedly stopped advance bookings, did a rethink by the evening. Ticket counters at BIG Cinemas opened as did those at Fun Republic Cinemas.
Said Vishal Kapur, CEO of Fun Republic: “Senior officers have assured full support and in lieu of tht we have opened the advance bookings as of now. We have have been constantly monitoring the situation because we have to assure the safety of people.”
However, single screen theatres like Mehul in Mulund and Shreyas in Ghatkopar, which had been vandalised on Tuesday, continued to be undecided.
The film, directed by Karan Johar and also starring Kajol, is pitched as a blockbuster and the Shiv Sena’s campaign could still affect its chances.
As Kapur put it, the bookings have been weak but “I am sure on the day of the release it will be a different scenario”.
Said 22-year-old Priyanka Ukue: “Despite the controversy we would love to go and watch the movie but when things settle down.”
Maya, a young professional, was more emphatic: “The Sena has given themselves negative publicity. Even if ‘My Name is Khan’ is not a good film, it will get a good opening. Just for the sake of curiosity, people will go watch and give it good business.”
Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray’s estranged daughter-in-law Smita seemed to echo her when she said: “In a democracy, such things can be sorted out across the table. Nobody has the right to take the law in their own hands.”
Ironically, Shiv Sena leaders had unofficially backed down from the protests against the film Saturday, prompting Shah Rukh to tell reporters he was glad the party understood his point of view. But the U-turn came only too quickly.