New Zealand's chief censor has tightened the rating of Bollywood film The Kashmir Files to R18 after warnings it could fan anti-Muslim sentiment.
"I watched the film, and I am satisfied that it does not promote extremism or violence in a way that would require it to be classified as objectionable [banned] in New Zealand," Chief Censor David Shanks said.
"However, I think an R18 restriction is warranted given the nature and intensity of the violence and cruelty depicted. This age restriction is consistent with what the film received in Australia and India."
The Classification Office announced the change early on Saturday morning after Shanks spent the week speaking to a range of community representatives and consulting with overseas classification offices.
"I know this decision will disappoint some members of the Hindu community that I spoke with, who believe that the film has historical value and should be released with no age restriction," he said.
"Similarly, some members of the Muslim community were of the view that the risk of harm that it posed meant that it should not be screened at all. I hear and understand both perspectives," he said.
The Kashmir Files is a Hindi-language drama based on the exodus of Hindus during the Kashmir Insurgency in 1990.
A revolt against Indian rule and escalating violence forced hundreds and thousands of Hindus, also known as Kashmiri Pandits, to flee the Muslim-majority Kashmir Valley, with widespread violence against civilians on both sides.
The film was originally set for release in New Zealand on March 24 with an R16 rating, but was held back after members of the Muslim community raised their concerns with the Classification Office.
Screenings of the film in cinemas across India have seen Hindu moviegoers calling for revenge and the extermination of Muslims, according to overseas news reports.
"The community leaders that I spoke to about this made it clear to me that they do not condone or tolerate expressions of hatred or oppression in their communities, and they are prepared to play their part to ensure the film doesn't prompt this," said Shanks.
"I believe them, and I think there is an opportunity here to build understanding and social cohesion, rather than erode it."
Hindu Council New Zealand spokeswoman Nitika Sharma said she was glad the film will be released, and that a middle path was taken where concerns raised by different sides have been taken into account.
She said a number of Kashmiri Hindus who were part of the exodus had made it to Aotearoa and now call the country home.
They believe film-maker Vivek Ranjan Agnihotri has done "extensive research to capture the story and experiences of the victims authentically".
"This is a story that is based on people who were victims at that time ... and any victim of historical violence should be able to find a safe space to hear their story because it's part of the healing process."
Muslim activist Anjum Rahman said the chief censor's review of the film shows New Zealand's democratic process is working as it should.
"People are allowed to lodge a complaint against this film and the Classification Office has a responsibility to receive and consider it."
The story of Kashmiri Pandits deserved to be told and this was not a matter of contention, she said. "The question is whether the film was an accurate retelling of the story."
The film's producers have classified it as a work of fiction, and Rahman believes it is unlikely to have passed New Zealand standards of accuracy and balance if it had been promoted as a documentary.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday endorsed the movie, his nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) scrapping entertainment taxes for the box office hit in states they run, while the state of Assam gave government employees half a day off to head to the theatres. Critics have long pointed to increasing violence against Muslims in India since Modi and his Hindu Nationalist BJP came to power in 2014.
Indian High Commissioner to New Zealand Muktesh Pardeshi had tweeted his letter to Shanks on Monday calling for the release of the film, saying there were "concerning reports" that the Censor was under "tremendous political pressure" to ban the film by Muslim groups that were lobbying the Government including the Prime Minister.
Shanks rejected the claim that his review of the Kashmir Files was politically influenced.
"That is untrue. The independence of my office is absolutely central to carrying out our challenging role, and I will always act to protect it," he said.