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July 24, 1999


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Orgy And Bhagvad Gita Don't Mix!

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A P Kamath in New York

Eyes Wide Shut Bad karma is catching up with the late Stanley Kubrick whose films Lolita and A Clockwork Orange are perennial controversies. Now, his latest film, Eyes Wide Shut, has offended the ears of Hindus.

The use of an Indian religious chant during the controversial orgy scene in Kubrick's last film has so upset many Hindus in America that they have started writing letters to Warner Bros, producer and distributor of the film, asking for deletion of the chant from the movie and withdrawal of its CDs.

The Hindu Students Council and many other groups are expected to join the protest. Initially it will be a letter campaign and discussions with Warner Bros, but if no results are achieved there could be protests at movie theatres, some of the activists said.

Warner Bros had no comment about the protests.

"If we could succeed in getting Sony to withdraw an offensive cover of a very popular CD, and if we could get Universal to give up showing an episode of the television film Xena," said a New York student, Raja V Gopal, "we should expect Warner Bros to listen to us -- and remove the chanting from the film."

The critically acclaimed movie, which is expected to be a front-runner for the Oscar nominations, grossed an impressive $ 29 million in its opening week. It was the highest grossing film of the week. It is playing in more than 2,000 movie houses in North America in its second week and is expected to gross at least $100 million.

Kubrick had the final cut on the film, and rumours that Warner Bros might make some alterations have been dispelled. The lead actor, Hollywood star Tom Cruise, had said before the film's release that he would oppose any changes from the final cut approved by Kubrick who died a few months ago, soon after completing the film.

The controversial photograph of Mike Myers in Vanity Fair The soundtrack of the movie is among the 20 top-sellers in America; nearly 300,000 copies have been sold in the last week. There are reportedly 1 million CDs out in the market.

The orgy scene at the beginning of the movie has the recitation of the verse from the Bhagvad Gita: Parithranaya Saadhunam Vinashaya cha dushkrithaam Dharmasamsthabanarthaya Sambhavami yuge yuge...

Hindu activists believe Warner Bros could be persuaded to remove the music from the movie. They remember how protests by thousands and by the American Hindu Anti-Defamation Coalition forced Sony Music to withdraw Aerosmith's Nine Lives CD two years ago. The CD jacket had taken off on a traditional Hindu depiction of Lord Krishna subduing the serpent Kalia, but showed Krishna with a cat's face and breasts.

The American Hindu Anti-Defamation Coalition had warned Columbia and Sony that unless the offending jacket cover was withdrawn, it would be forced to initiate worldwide action against the company. The coalition had also stated its intention of taking Sony, Columbia Records and Aerosmith to the federal court for permanent injunction and damages. It also set up a Web site.

"Sony could not ignore thousands of messages from Hindus around the world, and decided to stop the production of the said CD," a spokesman for Sony had said. Sony then issued the album with another jacket.

A few months ago a spread in the popular magazine Vanity Fair led to accusations that the actor Mike Myers mocked Hindu beliefs and insulted the faith. Myers is one of the most popular of Hollywood stars. His newest comedy, Austin Powers 2: The Spy Who Shagged Me, has grossed a robust $ 190 million in the United States.

Shot by David LaChapelle, the pictures showed a partially shorn Myers in robes, mehndi and bindi. Myers also had "Call my agent" painted onto his hand and held a personal organiser displaying 'Om' in one picture. In another he sat in the lotus position with an elongated tongue like Kali, surrounded by naked, blue-skinned models and Hanuman.

While some Hindus felt the photos were a parody and should not be condemned, the protestors prevailed.

Though Vanity Fair did not withdraw the magazine, photographer LaChappelle called the South Asian Journalists Association, whose members had animatedly discussed the pictures, and apologised to the Hindu community.

It is unique when an apology comes directly from a writer or artiste and not an editor, Sreenath Sreenivasan, associate professor at Columbia University and one of the founders of SAJA, said in an interview.

Hindu groups in the US, Britain and Australia fought a successful battle against the hit television series, Xena: Warrior Princess, a few months ago. The production company first refused to meet the protestors, but as the e-mail campaign began and the Indian publications wrote extensively about it, it pulled in the offensive instalment worldwide.

"It is a great victory not only for Hindus but for religious people of all faiths," Tusta Krishnadas of the World Vaishnava Association had said.

Renaissance Pictures, the producers of Xena, issued a statement apologising for the offence, and stating that it had no plans for other episodes involving Hindu deities. It noted, however, that a Hindu individual had reviewed the original script, which Hindu protestors said portrayed Lord Krishna and Hanuman as fictional characters.

While Krishnadas told reporters he was pleased with the decision, he was unhappy that Universal Studios, the distributor of Xena never directly apologised to the Hindus.

"[They] continue to see Hindus and Hindu organisations that are protesting against them as being unworthy of their attention," he had said.

Now, he could go to war against Warner Bros, with his eyes wide open and ears fully alert.

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