"Padmaavat" opened in theaters across India after months of fierce protests that kicked off amid false rumors that the movie featured a love sequence between a legendary Hindu queen and a Muslim ruler.
The much-anticipated Bollywood epic "Padmaavat" about semi-mythical Hindu queen Padmavati opened across the India amid heavy security on Thursday.
Paramilitary forces and police in riot gear manned barriers around cinemas in New Delhi, Mumbai and other major cities.
The screenings went ahead even as members of some fringe Hindu groups continued their protests in several parts of the country, holding rallies and blocking roads.
The protests prompted cinema owners in several states to abandon plans to screen the movie.
What is the dispute about?
Demonstrators accuse its director, Sanjay Leela Bhansali, of distorting history by depicting a romance between queen Padmaavati of the Rajput warrior clan and 14th century Muslim ruler Alauddin Khilji.
The filmmakers deny the accusation and say the film takes its inspiration from a 16th century epic Sufi poem by the same name, in which the brave and beautiful Rajput queen chose to immolate herself in a ceremonial fire rather than be captured Khilji.
Film critics confirmed the filmmakers' assertions and wrote that there was not the slightest hint of the rumored love scenes in the movie.
"His film is a relentlessly opulent, magnificently mounted paean to Rajput 'aan baan shaan' (pride and valor)," the Indian Express newspaper wrote, albeit rating it at 2.5 of 5 stars.
In Gurgaon, just outside the Indian capital New Delhi, some of the prominent schools remained closed amid fears of violence.
On Wednesday, a group of en attacked a school bus in the city. They threw stones at the bus as petrified young children students crouched on the floor of the bus in fear. No one was injured in the attack.
The attack was part of fringe right-wing Hindu groups' last-ditch effort to prevent the movie's release.
On Tuesday, several hundred people attacked shops, set alight dozens of motorbikes and damaged more than 150 cars across Gujarat state's main city Ahmedabad.
Similar riots unfolded in other cities, with baton-wielding police charging protesters in Etawah in the north Indian state of Uttar Pradesh state as they marched through the streets. Demonstrators also blocked a passenger train in the city of Mathura in the state.
Theater owners in fear
Citing law and order concerns, the Multiplex Association of India, which represents a majority of the multiplex owners in the country, refused to screen the movie in four states, Indian broadcaster NDTV reported.
Inox multiplexes, India's second largest theater chain, has decided not to play the movie at its theaters in Gujarat and Rajasthan, the two states hit by the worst protests.
The Bollywood epic still opened in nearly 5,000 cinemas across the country. Ticket sales were brisk in most parts of the country, including Delhi and Gurgaon, in spite of the protests as movie buffs poured into theaters to watch the opulent period drama with extravagant songs and dance sequences.
The film, initially slated for release in December last year, was cleared for release earlier this month by the country's censor board with five changes, including tweaking the title to 'Padmaavat,' from 'Padmavati.'
Despite the clearance, some Indian states banned the screening of the movie, citing the law and order situation. These bans were overturned by the country's top court last week.
Several hardliners, including a member of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have offered bounties of up to 50 million rupees (€635,000, $769,000) to anyone who "beheaded" lead actress Deepika Padukone or the film's director Bhansali.
ap/msh (Reuters, dpa, AFP, AP)