Malaysian fans riot at delayed opening of Indian film

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Saturday, June 16, 2007

Angry fans of popular Indian film actor Rajinikanth rioted in 10 cinemas in Malaysia after the release of the actor's latest movie was delayed by technical problems.

The release of Sivaji: The Boss was supposed to occur simultaneously across southern India and Tamil-speaking parts of Malaysia on Thursday. But not enough prints of the film were available, so cinemas in Malaysia had to resort to trying to screen digital versions of the movie on equipment they were unfamiliar with, which led to the delays and glitches. Fans found the situation unacceptable.

According to a report in today's New Straits Times, the worst-hit in the mayhem was the Sri Intan Theatre in Klang, in Selangor state. Patrons had started lining up at 4 p.m. local time (0800 GMT), and waited five hours for the show to start.

The Coliseum Cinema in Kuala Lumpur.
Image: Two hundred percent.

Due to technical problems, it started late at 10:30 p.m., with tickets for both the 9 p.m. and midnight shows fully booked. Then, halfway through the film, at around 11:30 p.m., the screening was halted due to "technical problems", according to the cinema manager, and could not be fixed.

The management announced that the show had to be cancelled and offered to refund the ticket money, but then the crowd became unhinged. Glass displays, lights and speakers were smashed. The screen and curtains were torn. Chairs were ripped apart, and wood panelling damaged. According to another local daily, The Star, angry fans even briefly set fire to the building, but it was quickly extinguished by cinema staff.

The Sri Intan has suspended screenings while repairs are made. Damage is been estimated at 70,000 Malaysian ringgit (about US$20,000).

In Ipoh, about 125 miles (200 kilometres) north of Kuala Lumpur, police were summoned to control unruly crowds at the Sri Kinta cinema. A cinema manager was beaten by irate fans, and he was taken to the hospital with head injuries that required stitches.

Police were also called in at a cinema Penang, where patrons banged on ticket counters, demanding refunds and that the movie be shown. The first showing finally got under way after a three-hour delay.

Fistfights broke out at a cinema in Rawang, where fans threw bottles and smashed glass cases.

In Kuala Lumpur, the venerable Coliseum Theatre also had an unruly crowd.

"People grew impatient and started pushing, resulting in a broken glass panel at the counter. We only got the movie at 4:30 p.m. and started selling the tickets at 4:45 p.m.," theater owner Chua Seong Siew was quoted as saying in the New Straits Times.

The movie distributor said the delay was due to not enough prints of the film being sent from AVM, the Chennai-based production company.

"Rain and delay in getting the digital password from India for security reasons to beat piracy were the primary reasons for the delay and cancellations. Because of the rain, our delivery was affected and as a result, there was a delay in the screening of the movie," S. Vel Paari, head of distributor Pyramid Saimira Theatre Chain, was quoted as saying by The Star.

Paari said he had ordered 53 copies of the film, but only got 42.

"The remaining 11 prints had to be downloaded through the Internet," he explained to The Star.

The film, Sivaji: The Boss, is a 185-minute cavalcade of action, romance and song-and-dance numbers, starring Rajinikanth, one of the most popular stars of Tamil cinema, which is also known as "Kollywood", the second-largest of the Indian film industry after the Hindi-language "Bollywood". Budgeted at US$15 million, which is huge by Indian-industry standards, the film is said to be the most expensive yet made in India.

The film's flamboyant 57-year-old star, Rajnikanth, has a cult-like following in Tamil-speaking southern India, and tickets to the film have been sold out for weeks.

In Malaysia, about 10 percent of the population of 26 million are ethnic Indians, most of them Tamil.

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