A government body has blocked the release of a film dramatizing the 1984 assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, which had been scheduled for release Friday, on the grounds that it could incite religious tensions.
Critics said the Punjabi-language film, “Kaum De Heere,” depicted Mrs. Gandhi’s killers in a favorable or even romanticized light. Mrs. Gandhi was gunned down by two of her own bodyguards, who were Sikh; the assassination was followed by riots throughout India in which thousands of Sikhs were killed.
The Central Board of Film Certification, whose approval is required before any film can be shown in Indian theaters, had originally cleared “Kaum De Heere” for release but reversed its decision on Thursday. That reversal came after the Home Ministry called the film “highly objectionable,” according to a report in the Press Trust of India.
“The problem lies in the fact that it eulogizes things it shouldn’t,” Leela Samson, chairwoman of the Central Board of Film Certification, said of the film on Friday. “Like taking the law into your own hands.”
She added that the film “puts a community or religious group above the interests of the nation.”
State leaders of two major Indian parties, the Congress party and the Bharatiya Janata Party, had demanded that the film be banned, according to news reports.
Mrs. Gandhi was killed on Oct. 31, 1984, more than four months after she ordered the Indian Army to raid a shrine in the Golden Temple complex in the Punjabi city of Amristar, which had been taken over by Sikh separatists. Hundreds died in the siege, which turned the space in front of the shrine into a “killing ground,” according to one Indian Army general.
One of the bodyguards who shot Mrs. Gandhi was killed by the police soon afterward. The second was hanged in 1989, along with a former clerk, also Sikh, who was convicted of conspiring in the assassination.
Ms. Samson said a depiction of the hanging was one of the film’s objectionable scenes, calling it “not at all in good taste.”
Pardeep Bansal, one of the producers of “Kaum De Heere,” told the Press Trust of India that the film had been maligned, in many cases by people who had not seen it. “It is a completely balanced film wherein no religion or sect has been belittled,” Mr. Bansal said. “Some people are unnecessarily trying to create a controversy without watching the movie.”
The film’s title, which means “Diamonds of the Community,” was itself taken by critics as controversial, seen as referring to the assassins.
The board originally approved the film’s release in May after several screenings, and after requested cuts were made, Ms. Samson said. She said that the reversal of the decision was made at the Home Ministry’s request. She said the filmmakers had the right to appeal the decision.
The film’s writer and director, Ravinder Ravi, said that he would make a decision about an appeal after consulting with his legal team.
Earlier this week, the board’s chief executive, Rakesh Kumar, was arrested in connection with allegations that he had accepted bribes to approve films. The Central Bureau of Investigation, which arrested Mr. Kumar, demandedthat all films approved under his tenure be reviewed. Mr. Kumar told questioners that he took a bribe of 100,000 rupees, about $1,655, from the makers of “Kaum De Heere” to approve their film, according to The Associated Press. Mr. Ravi denied paying a bribe to Mr. Kumar to clear the film.
Ms. Samson said that she had no prior knowledge about any bribe case involving Mr. Kumar.