Right-wing Hindu activists this week disrupted shooting for Oscar-winner Kathryn Bigelow’s movie on the hunt for Osama bin Laden, protesting at the use of Indian locations to portray Pakistan.
Members of the hardline Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) stormed the set in Chandigarh — the northern Indian city famously designed by Swiss-French architect Le Corbusier — where Bigelow’s crew had been shooting for four days.
The location was a Chandigarh market, which the production company had transformed with shopboard signs in Urdu, autorickshaws with Lahore number plates and burqa-clad extras.
“They removed signs that had been put up in Urdu and also pushed and abused the camera crew. They raised slogans against Pakistan and forcibly removed some Pakistani flags,” a local police officer told AFP by telephone.
“We don’t want Pakistani flags on Indian soil and we don’t agree that Indian markets should look like Pakistan,” said Punjab VHP secretary Ramkrishna Srivastava.
Under the working title “Zero Dark Thirty,” Bigelow’s latest film recounts the hunt for bin Laden, which ended when US special forces raided his hideout in the Pakistani garrison town of Abbottabad last May, killing the Al-Qaeda leader.
With filming in Pakistan not an option, there has been intense media speculation about what locations might be chosen by Bigelow, who won the 2010 Oscar for Best Director for “The Hurt Locker.”
Indian newspaper reports had suggested she might look to recreate the recently demolished three-storey bin Laden hideout in the desert state of Rajasthan.
The Indian line production company involved in the film, said the shooting in Chandigarh was simply aimed at collecting “establishing” shots with a Pakistani feel.
“No real sets have been built at all. The actual recreation of Abbottabad will not even be in India. It’s being done in Jordan,” said a member of the company who declined to be identified.
He said talks had been held with the Hindu protestors to try to defuse the situation.
“We explained that there’s nothing here against Hinduism, nothing against Pakistan. It’s just a movie,” he said.
“Nothing has been shut down. We are still filming and will continue to do so,” he added.
Local VHP leader Vijay Bhardwaj said the crew had agreed to stop using Pakistani flags on the set.
The film is scheduled to be released at the end of 2012.