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John Abraham, Lisa Ray, Seema Biswas, Kulbhushan Kharbanda, Waheeda Rehman, Raghuvir Yadav, Vinay Pathak, Rishma Malik

It was once rumoured that Bal Thackeray was quoted as saying that the person he hates most in the world is Deepa Mehta. Thackeray is the leader of Shiv Sena, one of the most powerful right-wing Hindu fundamentalist groups in India and is reputed to have a stranglehold on everything that transpires within Bombay. This is a powerful and dangerous adversary and one wonders what it is that Mehta did to raise the ire of the man who was named by a judicial inquiry as the provocateur of frenzied Hindu mobs that in 1992 burned Muslim homes and businesses and killed 1,200 in Bombay. The answer is simple: she made films which questioned the interpretations that current Hindu leaders were giving to the Sacred Texts and in particular as they related to the treatment of women. Mehta's first run-in with Thackeray came during the 1998 release of Fire, the award-winning first film in her trilogy of the elements, which was followed by Earth in 1999 and finally by Water, which was completed in 2005. Using a politically correct mix of men and women and alerting the news media beforehand, Thackeray's so-called Shiv Sainiks rampaged through a matinee show of Fire in Bombay, smashing glass and burning posters. The next day, theatres in New Delhi, Pune and Surat were similarly hit. 'Is it fair to show such things which are not part of Indian culture', Bal Thackeray, asked in a magazine interview. 'It can corrupt tender minds. It is a sort of a social AIDS.' Thackeray was referring to the lesbian relationship between the two main female characters in the film, relationships which he claimed did not exist in India.

Every newspaper in India and many around the world including the New York Times carried coverage of these events and thus Thackeray achieved his objective of being seen as the protector of the Hindu faith.

In spite of the fact that the Supreme Court ordered that troops be mustered to protect the theatres and armed guards be provided for director Mehta, the theatre owners were too intimidated to re-open Fire to the public.

Fire became the highest-selling pirated DVD in India. Mehta's next battle with the fundamentalist element did not occur until 2000 when a rioting mob of 2,000 attacked and burned the sets of the production of Water and issued death threats against the director Mehta and the actresses Shabana Azmi and Nandita Das.

This confrontation was organized by the RSS, another Hindu fundamentalist faction closely aligned with the Shiv Sena and the cultural arm of the BJP party, who were in power in New Delhi at that time. The Indian government publicly decried this effrontery to free speech and provided 300 troops to protect the production and heavily armed security for Mehta.

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