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MUMBAI (AFP) – A Bollywood spy thriller set against the backdrop of the Sri Lankan civil war has been pulled from British and some Indian theatres after protests over its depiction of rebel fighters, the movie's distributors said Saturday.
Madras Cafe, which opened Friday, features John Abraham as an Indian secret agent sent to Sri Lanka during the island's decades-long conflict between the government and separatist Tamil rebels.
But the film has failed to reach a number of cinema halls after ethnic Tamil populations in India and in Britain complained that they were unfairly portrayed.
"Our UK exhibitors, Cineworld, decided to hold back the film after protesters gathered outside their UK offices," said Rudrarup Datta, marketing head at the film's Indian co-producer and distributor Viacom18 Motion Pictures.
"Exhibitors do not want to take a risk and withdrawing screenings of the film is their prerogative," Datta said.
No British cinemas are currently showing the film although they were still hopeful of a release at a later date, he added.
A full release has gone ahead in the United States, Canada and the United Arab Emirates.
Indian media reports said theatres also refused to show the film in southern Tamil Nadu state after protests from its large Tamil population.
Activist group Naam Tamilar (We Tamils) asked the state government to block the film's release, unhappy that rebels were depicted as "terrorists", according to media reports.
In Britain, an online petition was launched calling for a halt to the film's release there because it was believed to portray Tamils "in a poor light". Nearly 2,000 people have given their support to the petition.
The film passed India's censors with no cuts and a parental guidance certificate, and was classified for those aged over 15 in Britain, while director Shoojit Sircar has insisted the movie does not take sides.
"Since the release, so many Tamil people have tweeted that there is nothing anti-Tamil about the film. People have the right to protest but you cannot stop cinema-lovers from watching a film and deciding for themselves," Sircar told AFP.
The bloody conflict in Sri Lanka, which cost up to 100,000 lives, erupted between government forces and the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), who were fighting for an independent Tamil state. Both sides are accused of human rights violations.
Sri Lankan troops declared an end to 37 years of ethnic war after wiping out the leadership of the Tamil Tiger rebels in May 2009.
Sri Lanka has resisted international pressure for an independent investigation into war crimes despite what the UN calls "credible allegations" of up to 40,000 civilians killed in the final battles in 2009.