BOMBAY, India – The government Tuesday temporarily held up the release of the movie "The Da Vinci Code" in India after receiving complaints from Catholic groups, even though the national censor had cleared the film.
Information and Broadcasting Minister Priya Ranjan Dasmunshi said he had received more than 200 complaints and has asked for a special screening of the movie. The release of the movie, scheduled for Friday, "may be delayed by a day or two," he said.
"We are a secular country. On any sensitive issue, we should take action after we examine every aspect," Dasmunshi told reporters. "We have to be careful."
Like the best-selling novel on which it is based, the movie's plot centers on the premise that Jesus married Mary Magdalene, with whom he bore children.
The government action followed protests by a Bombay-based group of Roman Catholics.
Joseph Dias, head of the Catholic Secular Forum, began a hunger strike in downtown Bombay to protest the censorship board's Monday decision. He said he will be joined by several other people.
"We want the movie to be banned. The movie should not be shown in India," he said.
Other Catholic groups that had protested the movie also said they were disappointed by the board's decision.
But the Rev. Myron Pereira, a member of the Central Board of Film Certification panel that cleared "The Da Vinci Code" said there was no reason to reject the movie.
He said the contention that Christ married was "fictional and the film also implies that the church is covering it up. But it does not portray anything in an obscene fashion. People can protest about anything since we live in a democracy."
Pereira said the censors ordered that the movie's disclaimer — which notes it is a work of fiction and not intended to harm the feelings of any community — be moved to the beginning for the Indian release.
"People may not sit right until the end to watch the credits," said Pereira, who is also the director of the Xavier Institute of Communication in Bombay.
India is home to 18 million Roman Catholics, including 500,000 in Bombay, just a small sliver of the country's 1 billion people, most of whom are Hindu. There is also a sizable Muslim minority.