A popular south Indian actress has been pelted with sandals, tomatoes and rotten eggs and hauled before court for telling Indian men not to expect their brides to be virgins anymore.
Khushboo, a 35-year-old star of Tamil language movies, told a magazine in September there was nothing wrong with premarital sex -- as long as it was protected sex.
She is now out on $100 bail, and banned from making any more public comments or giving interviews.
The married mother of two is due back in court in a little over two weeks, although it remains unclear whether or not she has broken any law.
The row has also engulfed 19-year-old tennis player Sania Mirza, already under a separate Islamic fatwa for wearing skirts on court, after she stormed out of a news conference on Sunday when pressed on her reported support for what Khushboo said.
Initially, Khushboo’s comments went unnoticed. But a week later, Tamil-language Sun TV, based in the southern state of Tamil Nadu, ran a story of film industry outrage.
Sun may not be an entirely disinterested party. Sun dominated Tamil television without rival for 15 years -- until Khushboo came along, hosting a game show on the rival Jaya network which quickly became the most popular Tamil show.
The controversy was picked up by conservative political and community groups, who staged rowdy demonstrations and filed more than two dozen defamation and public interest suits, including one accusing her of “corrupting innocence”.
The controversy has at once titillated and outraged Indians, both supporters and critics, and is still front page news.
Even the finance minister has been grilled by journalists for his opinion, sidestepping the specifics but backing free speech. Miss Universe, Russia’s Natalie Glebanova, and Indian Formula One driver Narain Karthikeyan have also come out in support.
Newspapers also initially reported Mirza, ranked world number 31 and also from south India, as backing her.
But the Muslim teenager, who has angered some Islamic clerics by wearing skirts on court, quickly denied saying any such thing.
“I will like to clearly say on record that I cannot possibly justify premarital sex as it is a very big sin in Islam and one which I believe will not be forgiven by Allah,” Mirza said in a statement, having walked out of a sponsor’s news conference when reporters continued to press her on Khushboo.
Not the first scandal
Khushboo, also known as “Baby Khushboo” after starting her career in the 1980s as a child actress, is originally from Mumbai. She moved into Tamil films as an adult after her Bollywood career failed to take off.
Now busy with her game show, she gained a tremendous following in Tamil movies as a heroine in sexy song-and-dance films. Adoring fans have built temples in her honor.
But it’s not the first time she has been embroiled in a scandal in deeply conservative India. In a bid to breathe life into her Hindi film career, she once appeared on the cover of a film magazine kissing another actress -- one of India’s first public shots of women kissing.
In the latest controversy, Khushboo has found support in an unlikely quarter, the hard-line Hindu Rahstriya Swayamsevak Sangh.
“In a state which has one of the highest rates of female feticide and disparity in male-female literacy rates, talking of protecting womanhood is a sham,” its newspaper, Organizer, said.
“If womanhood is the issue, the protesters should have trained their guns on vulgar movies ... and artists like M.F. Hussain, who has done a series of nude paintings of Hindu goddesses,” it added, referring to India’s leading international painter, whose works sell for hundreds of thousands of dollars.