A member of India's Hindu nationalist ruling party offered a $1.5 million bounty Sunday for anyone who beheads the lead actress and the director of a yet-to-be released Bollywood film that's sparked controversy for depicting a romance between a Hindu queen and Muslim ruler.
The film "Padmavati" was set to be in theaters on Dec. 1 and has caused a firestorm over its alleged handling of the relationship.
Suraj Pal Amu, a Bharatiya Janata Party leader from the northern state of Haryana, offered the bounty against actress Deepika Padukone and filmmaker Sanjay Leela Bhansali.The film's producers postponed the release of the movie the same day.
Speaking at a public rally, Amu also said the film would not be allowed to be released at all, local media reported.
The movie "Padmavati" is based on a 16th century Sufi epic poem, "Padmavat," a fictional account of a brave and beautiful Rajput queen who chose to kill herself rather than be captured by the Muslim sultan of Delhi, Allaudin Khilji. Over the centuries, the tale has come to be seen as history, even though there is little historical evidence to support it.
Padukone plays the role in the film of Padmini, the legendary queen who committed "jauhar," the medieval Rajput practice in which women of royal households walked into funeral fires to embrace death over the dishonor of being taken captive.
The film has been in trouble since the beginning of the year, with fringe groups in the western state of Rajasthan attacking the film's set, threatening to burn down theaters that show it and even physically attacking Bhansali in January.
Most of the anger at the film appears to stem from allegations that Bhansali distorted history by filming a romantic dream sequence between the film's main protagonists. Bhansali has denied the allegations.
Earlier this month, the head of the Rajput Karni Sena in Rajasthan said Padukone should have her nose cut — a symbol of public humiliation — for being part of a film that allegedly insulted the famed queen.
On Monday, local government officials vowed to take "stringent action" against those threatening Padukone and others involved in the movie, The Indian Express reported.
India's 1.3 billion-strong democracy is the largest in the world, but despite significant economic progress over the last few decades its politics are held hostage by a complex mix of religion and caste. Books and movies have found themselves at the receiving end of threats of violence and bans because they either offend one religious or caste group, or are deemed offensive to Indian culture in general.
In the past, India's film censor board rejected the erotic drama "Fifty Shades of Grey," and Hollywood movies that appear on Indian screens are routinely scrubbed of sex scenes. "The Da Vinci Code" was banned in the Indian state of Goa, which has a large Christian population, because religious groups objected.
On Monday, India's Supreme Court refused to ban the controversial film, saying it is not inclined in the matter and the fate of the film needs to be decided by the country's censor board, India Today reported.
In its decision, the court said: "The censor board has a role and the Supreme Court cannot assume that role. Why should the court interfere to stop the release of a movie which has not been cleared by the censor board?"
In 2014, the publishing house Penguin India pulled from shelves and destroyed all copies of American historian Wendy Doniger's "The Hindus: An Alternative History" after protests and a lawsuit from a Hindu right-wing group. The group's main objection was that the book described Hindu mythological texts as fictional.
India-born writer Salman Rushdie's book "The Satanic Verses" has been banned here since 1998, since many Muslims consider it blasphemous. Rushdie was forced to cancel a 2012 appearance at the Jaipur Literary Festival amid protests and threats by prominent Muslim clerics.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.