Rushdie cancels Kolkata visit

Kolkata, Jan 30 (IANS) Booker Prize-winning writer Salman Rushdie cancelled his visit to Kolkata Wednesday to promote Deepa Mehta's film "Midnight's Children", based on his homonymous novel.

PVR Pictures, the Indian distributors of the movie, confirmed that Rushdie had cancelled his visit.

"We had some plans with Salman (Rushdie) to promote the film in Kolkata, but he did not go to Kolkata. It was his personal call. We now plan to do some more programmes in Mumbai," PVR Pictures (vice-president, marketing) Arun Nair told IANS.

The 65-year-old author of the controversial "The Satanic Verses" was slated to hold a media meet about the film and attend an autograph session.

Last January, Rushdie had to call off a visit to the Jaipur Literary Festival following protests by Muslim groups and death threats.

In Kolkata, Muslim groups under the banner of Milli Ittehad Parishad demonstrated Wednesday morning near the Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose International Airport against Rushdie's visit.

"We withdrew the protest after authorities assured us that Rushdie's visit has been cancelled," said Kamruzzaman, general secretary, All Bengal Minority Youth Federation, which had sent protest mails to the state government Tuesday on learning that the author would fly into Kolkata Wednesday.

According to some reports, Rushdie also planned to visit Kolkata Book Fair - that started Jan 26 and would continue till Feb 10 - and attend a session at the Kolkata Literary Meet on his book "Midnight's Children" Wednesday evening. The Kolkata Literary Meet, held as part of the book fair, began during the day.

The film's producer David Hamilton, director Deepa Mehta and actor Rahul Bose were listed as speakers at the session.

A Kolkata Literary Meet spokesman said Mehta and Hamilton also cancelled their visits and the session on "Midnight's Children" would feature only Bose.

However, the Kolkata Literary Meet official programme did not list Rushdie as a speaker and the organisers said he was not a participant at the book fair and its literary meet.

There were reports that Kolkata Police officials advised the trip organisers against hosting Rushdie in the city. Neither the organisers nor police confirmed this.

"I don't know anything about Salman Rushdie's visit. I have nothing to say," said Kolkata Police Joint Commissioner (Headquarters) Jawed Shamim.

The state government was also in a denial mode.

"The government had no definite news of Rushdie's visit. After receiving information, Kolkata Police contacted their counterparts in Mumbai, who confirmed that Rushdie did not have any programme in Kolkata. Kolkata Police conveyed the information to the home secretary," said an official at the state secretariat Writers' Buildings.

Nair also denied that the trip was cancelled due to security reasons. "Wherever he is going, security has been extremely high. I don't think there was a security problem," he said.

The development comes almost concurrent to the protests against actor-director Kamal Hasan's film "Vishwaroopam", which Muslim groups say militates against their beliefs.

Asked about the protests at the airport, author Amitav Ghosh, who inaugurated the Kolkata Literary Meet, said: "It is very unfortunate that Rushdie is not allowed to go wherever he wishes."

The main cast of "Midnight's Children", along with Rushdie, has toured Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore over the past week. Kolkata was to be the last port of call.

The film is based on Rushdie's 1980 Booker Prize winning novel and he has written the screenplay for its movie adaptation.

Rushdie has for long been embroiled in controversy over his book "The Satanic Verses", which has been perceived as anti-Islamic. He had received death threats after it was published in 1988, while a fatwa was also issued against him by the Iranian Islamic clergy.

--Indo-Asian news Service

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