Safety fears cancel Leicester Diwali lights switch-on by Bollywood's Dharmendra Singh Deol
A guest appearance by Bollywood royalty at Leicester's annual Diwali lights switch-on has been cancelled due to health and safety fears.
Action hero Dharmendra Singh Deol is filming his latest Blockbuster – Yamla Pagla Deewana 2 (Mad Madder Maddest 2) – in the city and had been due to make a "surprise" appearance at Sunday's event.
He had agreed to turn on the 6,500 lights decorating Belgrave's Golden Mile and address his adoring public from the stage to mark the start of Leicester's Diwali celebrations.
But organisers have pulled the plug on the 76-year-old star's cameo after concerns were raised over policing and security.
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The appearance had been agreed after an approach to the Indian superstar by Councillor Piara Singh Clair, assistant city mayor and chair of the city council's Diwali working party.
"I spoke to his production director last week," said Coun Singh Clair. "He came back to me almost immediately to say Dharmendra had agreed and would be delighted to be our special guest."
However, the proposal was given short shrift when put to the festival's joint organising group, comprising of the city council, police and festival committee, on Friday.
In a statement issued by the city council, a spokesman said: "The group raised concerns about crowd management issues due to the presence of a celebrity of Mr Deol's stature, and also about the short notice. A joint decision was taken not to go ahead with the proposal."
Maganbhai Patel, president of the Leicester Hindu Festival Council, said: "If we'd known about this two months ago maybe something could have been worked, but we were not informed about it until the very last minute.
"When we put it to police they immediately said there could be a problem with health and safety.
"We didn't want to say no but the security and policing had already been arranged for up to 40,000 people.
"The fear was, if Dharmendra was to appear, then the numbers could be much higher and if, for example, the crowd surged towards the stage, there would be chaos."
Coun Singh Clair said: "It would have been wonderful for him to have been able to join us on Sunday. It was a great opportunity for one of India's most famous stars to take part in our Diwali celebrations.
"But, while I am obviously disappointed, and I'm told Dharmendra is too, I fully understand the decision – at the end of the day, health and safety has to be paramount."
The honour of switching on the lights at 7pm will now revert back to Jashvant Chauhan, Leicester Hindu Festival Council's general secretary.
Celebrations will take place from 6pm until 9pm, with local performers leading a stage programme of classical Asian and Bollywood dance and music followed by a firework and laser display in nearby Cossington Street Recreation Ground at 8pm.
For details, visit: www.leicester.gov.uk/diwali