After opting to ban the debut film of the controversial Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh of Dera Sacha Sauda earlier this year, the Punjab government is finding itself on a sticky wicket with the second film in the series, MSG 2 : The Messenger of God, that released this week.
The state government's ban on the first film after protests against its release from Sikh radical groups had led to the Dera's followers in Punjab flocking to Chandigarh and Haryana to watch the film. It had avoided any possible clash in Punjab as given the past hostilities between the Dera supporters and radical groups, there was a good chance of violence breaking out in the state.
This time round, however, the Punjab government has refrained from announcing a ban on the film. Yet the film is not being screened across the state. While the government claims that it is due to "some problem" between the producers of the film and the exhibitors, the Dera supporters have claimed that the government had informally threatened theatre owners against exhibiting the film.
Interestingly the district administration of Mansa had initially issued an order directing the cinema hall owners not to exhibit the film as it had been banned by the government. The order was hastily withdrawn the next day with the deputy commissioner saying that it was a "clerical mistake" and that there was no ban. Yet the film has not been released in that district or elsewhere in Punjab.
One of the dera supporters has released a letter from one of the theatre owners to the producers of the film in which he had mentioned that he has been asked by the authorities not to exhibit the film. "We have received instructions from the office of the Commissioner of Police for non-screening of MSG.....strict instructions have been given to all cinema operators in the region not to play the movie", the letter said.
The exhibitors are also scared of screening the film without any security provided by the administration as it may spark off riots.
The non release of the film has led to widespread agitation by the Dera supporters. They have been blocking the rail tracks as well as highways in some of the districts. Scores of trains had been cancelled or delayed putting the general public to much inconvenience. The Sikh groups have so far maintained restraint but the state government is keeping a close watch as the situation can go out of hand anytime.
The film MSG 2, like its predecessor, is more or less a documentary on the Dera head and the reformist works undertaken by the Dera over the years. The first film was a garish exhibit of the Dera chief taking on the drug lords and other criminals who then planned a conspiracy to assassinate the guru. In the end, of course, the hero prevails over them all.
The dera followers had described it as a blockbuster grossing over Rs 100 crore. The figure was, however, disputed by the film industry which said it was a "fake" amount as the dera had itself paid for the tickets which were distributed among its followers.
The latest film is an even more elaborate plot with massive sets and impossible stunts with the Dera head taking on criminals. His supporters have already declared it as a super hit film and like its predecessor it is also likely to run for several weeks.
The Dera had taken care not to hurt Sikh sensibilities in the films. It had burnt its fingers after the Dera head had allegedly dressed like a Sikh guru and had distributed "amrit" in the manner in which Sikh gurus did it. The act had sparked off violence in the state and tension still prevails wherever the Dera organises a public function in Punjab. The Sikh clergy and other groups have been opposing the Dera because it has been able to attract thousands of Sikhs, particularly those belonging to dalit and economically weaker sections of the society, to its fold. The Dera does not ask its followers, which it claims to be in crores across the world, to give up their faith but asks them to give up liquor and drugs.
The Shiromani Akali Dal and Bharatiya Janata party coalition government does not want to vitiate the peace currently prevailing in the state. It is well aware that all it needs is a spark to spread clashes and violence in the state. However, it appears to be undecided on how to resolve the issue. For some unexplained reasons it did not ban the film officially but it is putting pressure on the exhibitors not to release it. In the process it has attracted the ire of the Dera supporters as well as the Sikh groups wanting a ban on the film.