NEW DELHI/MUMBAI: The show must go on. And it did today as Sanjay Leela Bhansali's much debated "Padmaavat" unspooled in single and multiplex screens across the country under the shadow of security personnel and simmering tensions.
A day after a school bus in Gurgaon was attacked by stone-pelting protesters, audiences defied threats of violence to stream into theatres to watch the opening day shows of the period film starring Bollywood A-listers Deepika Padukone, Ranveer Singh and Shahid Kapoor.
Many of those who watched the film condemned the violence of the last few weeks and said there is nothing objectionable in it.
The Rs 150 crore film was released in 4,000 screens across the country, a source in the trade said.
The Multiplex Association of India said the film would not be screened in Rajasthan, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Goa in view of the tenuous law and order situation.
Initial reports suggested good business for the film, which has been the focal point of protests by various Rajput groups, which allege that it distorts their history and defames their queen Padmavati.
The tension was palpable with security personnel mounting vigil at malls, cineplexes and single screen halls but the day passed off without any major incident.
In Uttar Pradesh's temple town of Varanasi, a man attempted to immolate himself outside a mall but was stopped from doing so.
The state - where a fringe group yesterday announced a bounty for Deepika Padukone's nose -- was on high alert.
Additional Director General (Law and Order) Anand Kumar directed all district police chiefs to ensure that the force remains alert with anti-riot gear.
"Enough police force should be kept in reserve so it can be deployed when needed. Local intelligence units should also be alerted to keep an eye of unscrupulous elements so that effective timely action is taken," he said.
Some places in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh saw sporadic violence though the film was not released there.
Arterial roads were blocked, shops vandalised and bike rallies taken out in parts of Rajasthan.
"Our protest against the film is continuing. The Rajput Karni Sena took out a bike rally in Jaipur and similar protests took place in other areas also," said the group's president Mahipal Makrana.
About two dozen shops were damaged in stone-pelting incidents in Udaipur.
In Gurgaon, schools were closed following yesterday's violence and tension persisted but many multiplexes screened the film.
Elsewhere in the state, fearing ransacking of their properties, theatre owners in places such as Sonipat and Panchkula refused to screen the movie.
Neighbouring Punjab was relatively more relaxed.
In Madhya Pradesh, educational institutions remained open but commercial establishments were closed in places such as Indore, Ujjain and Gwalior.
In Gujarat, however, the bandh called by the Karni Sena evoked a tepid response with educational institutions, offices and markets open in most parts of the state.
As a precautionary measure, the Gujarat State Road Transport Corporation (GSRTC) suspended bus services from Ahmedabad to Mehsana and Banaskantha, an official said.
In some parts of the country, multiplex owners took the precaution of not putting up posters to ward off trouble.
And at the Satyam multiplex in west Delhi, the entire front row was occupied by uniformed security men. Bouncers were on hand too in case of trouble breaking out.
But that did little to curb the enthusiasm of the intrepid Bollywood fan.
Like banker Vineet, who said he would not miss the film just because of unrest created by groups like the Karni Sena.
"I believe in the Constitution and I am not scared to watch this movie. I trust our police," he said while queuing up outside a hall in Delhi.
Mumbaikar Dhruv Singh, who hails from Rajasthan, also wondered what the fuss was all about.
He referred to the "dream sequence" between Padmavati and Khilji, which several groups had objected to despite Bhansali clarifying that there was no such scene.
"There was not a single dream sequence in the film so I don't know what the fuss is all about. The attack on children, burning buses is not something we Rajputs endorse," he said.
While the occupancy in Delhi was around 60 to 70 per cent for the first show at 9 am, in Mumbai it was lower at 40-45 per cent.
"The response has been positive so far. We are hopeful it will increase," Mumbai-based Nitin Datar, a member of the Cinema Owners and Exhibitors Association of India, told PTI.
As the row took on the inevitable political overtones with Congress leader Digvijaya Singh saying that films which are not based on historical facts should not be made and AAP chief Arvind Kejriwal condemning those "who pelt our children with stones", the film's makers were quiet.
However, an emotional Deepika said in Mumbai that she was overwhelmed and confident that "Padmaavat" would get an "earth-shattering response".