'Bandit Queen' draws crowds and protests
By KhaIid Mohamed
MUMBAI, February 14.
The queues as well as the controversies arc- lengthening. Shekhar Kapur’s Bandit Queen, which has ignited scalding hot debates for over a year, has now been declared a bonanza box office hit by the trade pundits.
Extra prints of the film, based on the life of Phoolan Devi, have been rushed to cinema halls all over the country. During the weekend after its release on January 25, the film had, by contrast, been adjudged a washout by the naysayers.
However, crowds surged to the ticket windows and the ‘house full’ signs were up at Metro theatre in south Mumbai, suburban cinema halls and practically every city and township in the country.
In Mumbai, the cash collections were pegged at 98 per cent of the capacity of all theatres in the second most of the big-budget extravaganzas from the city’s studios.
Box office records have been broken by Bandit Queen at several theatres in New Delhi and Baroda, besides drawing 100 per cent ‘sold out’ shows in Nagpur. In Allahabad too, the collections are said to be in the vicinity of 90 per cent. According to trade reports, the film has collected a sum of Rs 112 crore in its very first week.
While the rush is on, the Delhi high court is scheduled to view the film this week to assess its content and impact in the wake of a petition asking for its ban and an immediate stay on its screening. The next hearing has been fixed for Friday.
News has also trickled in that the commissioner of police of Aurangabad has banned the film in that city for the next two months. Likewise, in Kora, Rajasthan, a police officer is believed to nave unilaterally ordered more cuts in the film, although only the Central Board of Film Certification is empowered to censor a film. Cuts adding up to about one-and-a-half minutes of the film’s running time had already been ordered by the censors.
The plot has thickened further with Phoolan Devi threatening to sue Mr Shekhar Kapur yet again for depicting her life.
Besides sparking sporadic protest agitations, the film has also provoked he opinion that it is being patronised merely for its scenes of nudity and the use of profane language. However, that is too short-sighted an argument. The film is a bold departure. from the Hindi film formula, signifying progress towards frank and fearless film-making.
Contacted over the phone in the’ U.S., where he air-dashed last week for negotiations for a new project, Mr Kapur stated, “If it is just nudity the people are coming to see in Bandit Queen, then how come the dubbed Hindi version of Schindler’s List which has more nudity.. and scene of love-making did not do well at al in India? In fact, Spielberg’s film was passed without any cuts while mine wasn’t.”
On the news about a policeman in Kota imposing cuts of his own volition, he remarked, “What gives am cop the right to order cuts? This is total infringement of the copyright Iaw. As far as I can see, be has the right to stop the screening if it creates a serious law and order problem, and nothing beyond that. But there has been no such problem in the last two weeks.”