Indian filmmakers said they have delayed indefinitely the release of a Bollywood historical epic about a legendary Hindu queen that has been the subject of weeks of violent protests.
Caste-based groups have been targeting "Padmavati", which was due to hit screens on December 1, over rumours that the movie will depict a romance between the queen and a Muslim ruler.
In a statement late Sunday Viacom18 Motion Pictures said they had "voluntarily deferred" the release date of the film, which has yet to be certified by India's censor board.
"We have faith that we will soon obtain the requisite clearances to release the film. We will announce the revised release date of the film in due course," it said.
The movie first ran into opposition in January when protesters belonging to the Rajput Karni Sena caste-based group attacked director Sanjay Leela Bhansali and vandalised the set during filming in Jaipur in Rajasthan.
The protesters are apparently unhappy about speculation that the film will include a romantic liaison between Rajput queen Padmavati, also known as Rani Padmini, and the 13th and 14th century Muslim ruler Alauddin Khilji.
The Rajput caste were historically Hindu warriors who ruled over kingdoms in western India.
Rajput Karni Sena accuse the film's makers of distorting historical facts, but historians say the queen is a mythical character and there is no clear evidence that she even existed.
Protesters attacked another set near Mumbai in March, burning costumes and other props.
They have stepped up protests in recent weeks, including making death threats against lead actress Deepika Padukone and Bhansali and demanding to preview the movie before it is released.
- 'Bullies' -
Last week the leader of another caste-related group, the Akhil Bhartiya Kshatriya Mahasabha (ABKM), offered 50 million rupees ($769,000) to anyone who "beheaded" Padukone and Bhansali.
Followers have burned effigies of the actress and the threats led Mumbai police to beef up their security of Padukone and the director.
India's Hindi film industry churns out hundreds of movies every year but filmmakers often face intimidation from fringe groups, fuelling fears over creative freedom in the country.
The censor board has so far refused to certify the movie, saying the producers' application form was "incomplete" while several politicians have also weighed into the controversy.
On Monday the chief minister of Madhya Pradesh, a member of India's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), said the film could not be screened in the state "if historical facts are distorted".
The deputy chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, also a BJP politician, had earlier called for "controversial portions" to be removed from the movie.
Cast members have called for detractors not to rush to judgement before seeing the film for themselves while several Bollywood personalities have come out in support of the movie and its team.
"Sad that bullies have prevailed again. The government's stance is disappointing but not unexpected," Hansal Mehta, a director, wrote in a tweet.
Actress Sonam Kapoor said she was "appalled" at the controversy, describing it as "ludicrous".
The movie stars Shahid Kapoor as Maharawal Ratan Singh, the husband of Padmavati, and Ranveer Singh as Sultan Alauddin Khilji who leads an invasion to try to capture the queen.