Artists in Chandigarh, India are defending Oscar-winning filmmaker Kathryn Bigelow filming scenes for her upcoming movie Zero Dark Thirty — about the killing of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden — in their city, following a protest by an ultra-conservative group.

On Monday local theatre directors, actors, writers and directors and other arts community representatives denounced recent protests by a group upset that the film has the northern Indian city of Chandigarh sitting in for Lahore, Pakistan.

On Friday, protesters shouted at and argued with the film's cast and crew in Chandigarh.

"We strongly oppose this and we will not let them put Pakistani flags here and we will not let them shoot for the film," Vijay Bhardwaj, leader of the Vishva Hindu Parishad Hindu group, told media.

Police were forced to intervene. Along with local artists, city and police officials have defended the Hollywood filmmaking team, saying all correct permits and permissions were sought and granted.

"They are creating an issue out of nothing," Kuldeep Sharma, director of Tagore Theatre, told Indian press.


Filmmaker Kathryn Bigelow sits on the Chandigarh set of her upcoming film Zero Dark Thirty, about the killing of Osama bin Laden on Saturday. She, her cast and crew are expected to continue shooting at various locations in India over the next few weeks. (Kapil Sethi/Associated Press)

"If people have come to our country to shoot, they should be left to do it peacefully. If not here, they will pick some other city."

Others noted that Bigelow — who won Academy Awards and other kudos for her Iraq War film The Hurt Locker — is not the first director to set a movie scene in Pakistan, but conduct filming in India.

"Creating a scene of Pakistan is part of the script," said actor Jaspal Bhatti. "[The protest] is the most illogical thing I have heard."

Film in development for years

In May 2011, bin Laden was killed by U.S. commandos during a covert mission in Abbottabad, Pakistan. Bigelow had already spent years developing a film about the hunt for the terrorist leader and moved ahead on the project by incorporating his death.

However, after the filmmakers were denied permission to shoot in Pakistan, they chose Chandigarh as a location instead. The film crew converted a section of the city to look like Lahore by posting billboards and signs in Urdu, putting Lahore plates onto auto-rickshaws and dressing roaming movie extras in traditional Pakistani clothing.

Zero Dark Thirty is slated for release in late 2012.

Though India and Pakistan have attempted to improve their dealings in recent years, a tense relationship lingers between the neighbouring, nuclear-armed countries, which fought three wars after winning independence from Britain in 1947.