Cinema halls in Chembur, Sion, Mulund, Dadar, Juhu and Andheri halted screenings of Hindi movie `Santa Banta’ under threat from local Sikh groups hours after its release on Friday.

The protests were led by former councillor and Congressman Charan Singh Sapra, who runs the Punjabi Cultural and Heritage Board, and transporter Malkit Singh Bal, the spokesman of the Maharashtra Sikh Association.

Sapra said, “Why make a satire based on fictional characters? Why not profile Hari Singh Nalwa or Ranjit Singh? Previous filmmakers who made films involving Sikh characters sought my opinion and carried out the cuts I suggested. So far I have restrained our boys from damaging theatres. Later we may show our warrior genes.”

Plaza Cinema called off the 3.30 pm screening after Sapra and Bal picketed the theatre. “We refunded the amount to our patrons and have cancelled shows of this film for the week. We do not wish our patrons to come to harm or property to be damaged,” said an attendant.

 Police spokesman DCP Dhananjay Kulkarni said no theatre had approached them for protection.Director Akashdeep Sabir said, “The protestors have not even seen `Santa Banta’. It is shocking that my film is being killed even though the Censor Board has cleared it, and the Bombay HC refused to stay its release. It is a simple comedy.” Akashdeep approached ACP (law and order) Deven Bharti, who has reportedly assured police protection for future screenings.