April 08, 2020
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Discordant Chant

Out-of-context use of a Gita sloka in 'Eyes Wide Shut' irks Hindus

Discordant Chant
DIRECTOR Stanley Kubrick's latest film Eyes Wide Shut, dubbed by reviewers as a riveting erotic drama, is stirring up passions of a different kind among many Hindus across the United States.

Within a week of its release in movie theatres in the US on July 16, an epistolary campaign has been started by angry members of the community, many of whom feel that a particular scene in the movie is an affront to their religion.

The scene in question is the one during the early part of the film in which the famous sloka from the Bhagvad Gita'Paritranaya Saadhunam Vinashayacha Dushkrithaam Dharmasamsthapanarthaya Sambhavami yuge yuge'is recited in the background in the midst of an orgy.

'The sloka is chanted perfectly, the way it should be, but it's baffling why (it should be) in the midst of a controversial orgy scene,' says San Diego-based Ajay Shah, convenor of a group called American Hindus Against Defamation (ahad). 'The way the scriptural quote is used in this particular context in the movie is definitely of concern to the Hindu community and the ahad,' he says. Others like Tusta Krishnadas, an official of the World Vaishnava Association (wva) says that Hindus, in fact, would have liked it had the sloka been used in a relevant context. 'I am told that the background scene is an indecent, sexual scene and in that case certainly it is a slap on the face of Hinduism,' he says. 'Hollywood can't continue to treat Hinduism as a third-grade religion.'

Evidently, the battle against the film is being fought without a general as offended individuals are shooting off e-mails on their own to Warner Bros, the producer and distributors of the film, and posting messages on popular South Asian websites to vent their feelings.

'Hindus are perceived as meek and the world knows they won't complain, so anything goes. Had Hindus been bombing... these idiots wouldn't have taken such liberties with the Gita,' one Mahadevan Shezian said in a message to the South Asian Journalists Association (saja) e-mail chat room.

An official at Warner Bros, however, said they were not aware of any protests by the Hindus. Published reports said that the producers had declined to comment on the protests. Incidentally, the current agitation over the alleged misuse of the Hindu religion is the third in a row this year. In April, a big controversy erupted over a photo in the annual pre-Oscar Hollywood issue of Vanity Fair magazine showing actor Mike Myers seated in the lotus position with a tongue like that of goddess Kali. The photo showed Myers surrounded by naked, blue-skinned models.

Although Vanity Fair did not make a comment on the issue, photographer David LaChapelle issued an apology saying the photos were meant as a humorous take on the trend of appropriating religious imagery as a fashion statement. Earlier in March, the producers of TV serial Xena: Warrior Princess and their distributors Universal Studios and Studios USA faced the wrath of various Hindu groups after their aired episodes showed Lord Krishna and Lord Hanuman engaging in fictional actions and doing things they never did. The protracted protests led the producers to issue an apology and the offensive instalment was withdrawn.

These successes have encouraged the detractors of Eyes Wide Shut, which is loosely based on Arthur Schnitzler's 1926 novella Dream Story, to feel hopeful that ultimately Warner Bros could be persuaded to remove the chanting of the sloka from the movie. 'Certainly, one can be hopeful that it will be possible to put pressure on them to delete that chanting,' says Krishnadas. The ahad plans to confront Warner Bros as to why they chose to use this sloka in such a context. 'At this time, we are seeking an explanation from the producers and are not launching any formal protest on the Internet or staging a protest march on the streets,' Shah says. 'We want to be very careful and do not wish to trivialise our organisation by picking up a fight for the sake of it,' he adds. 'If they (Warner Bros) can give us a plausible and convincing explanation for including the chanting in an apparently out-of-context scene, we will not pressure them to remove the chanting.' Asked as to who would clarify things since the director of the film is dead, Shah said he was hopeful that people like actors and musicians would be able to throw light on the issue.

Others like Dinesh Aggarwal, an official of the Overseas Friends of the bjp (ofbjp), which does not actively get involved in religious issues, said that as a person he felt offended by what he heard about the chanting of a sloka from the Gita amid an orgy and it certainly deserved to be condemned.

But not all seem to share the views of the likes of Aggarwal or Shah. According to an article published by Rediff-on-the-Net, a popular website devoted to Indian news, some Leftist academics are hitting back at the detractors of the film, accusing them of cultural fascism. Meanwhile, keep your eyes wide open for the next bit of news on Eyes Wide Shut.

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