November 28, 2018 / 2:30 PM / 12 days ago

India's telecom lobby group seek to halt release of movie showing cellphones as villains

MUMBAI, Nov 28 (Reuters) - A big-ticket Indian film that shows a post-apocalyptic world in which cellphones turn against their users has ruffled the feathers of the country’s telecom companies, who say the movie is defamatory and promotes unscientific attitudes against mobile phones.

In a letter to the country’s censor board and the government, The Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI), asked that a certificate issued to allow the movie to be shown be revoked and its release suspended. The film is scheduled to start appearing in cinemas on Thursday.

Pitched as one of the biggest Bollywood releases of the year, “2.0” is a multi-lingual film which hopes to rival the big Hollywood franchises increasingly finding favour with Indian audiences. Its lead is Rajinikanth, an actor from the southern state of Tamil Nadu who has a huge fan following, and is often referred to as the biggest movie star in India.

The villain of the movie, a giant that is half-human and half-bird, has wings made out of cellphones, and at one point in the trailer, growls: “Every person who owns a cellphone is a murderer.”

Scenes from the trailer show cellphones shooting out of users’ hands and into the sky, rising up like a typhoon and engulfing everything in sight.

“The said depiction of mobile services and towers is false, based on no evidence and wholly fictional. It is grossly prejudicial to the complainant and its members,” said COAI’s letter dated Nov. 23. A copy of the letter was reviewed by Reuters.

A Censor Board official was not immediately available for comment.

An email sent to India’s Ministry of Information and Broadcasting seeking comment did not get a response outside of business hours.

“There is always a danger that some segments of the population can use the movie to instigate law and order problems and initiate tower shutdowns,” COAI director general Rajan Mathews told Reuters via a text message.

“We are only requesting a previewing of the movie to ensure there is no such danger. Problems leading to tower shut downs have started from less than what is portrayed in a movie such as ‘2.0’ with a star actor.”

Core members of the COAI - Bharti Airtel, Vodafone Idea and Reliance Industries’ venture Jio - did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

India, the world’s fastest growing major mobile phone market, has an estimated 850 million mobile phones, according to tech research Counterpoint.

The producers of the film could not be immediately reached for a comment. (Reporting by Shilpa Jamkhandikar; Additional reporting by Sankalp Phartiyal; Editing by Martin Howell and David Evans)

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