“The Love Guru”: Journey Of A Protest Movement

Rajan Zed

Rajan Zed


“The Love Guru”: Journey Of A Protest Movement
08/03/2008
Rajan Zed

It began in March. I started the campaign alone saying that “from the information available about the movie, it appears to be lampooning Hinduism and Hindus and using Hindu terms frivolously”. In order to have more information, I urged its presenter Paramount Pictures to pre-screen the movie for us and they promised in March, “It is our full intention to screen the film for Rajan Zed and other Hindu leaders in the U.S. once we have a finished print.”

More people joined me along the way. Besides Hindu leaders and organizations, various Catholic, Presbyterian, Jewish, Native American, Methodist, Buddhist, youth, film, spiritual/religious, music, yoga, civil rights, etc., leaders came out with statements in support of this cause espoused by me. A prominent Jewish Rabbi even called for boycott of “The Love Guru” because it “…lampoons Hinduism, mocks Ashram life and Hindu philosophy…” and asking “who laughs at religious practices”.

As the movie approached completion, Paramount started avoiding us and several attempts to reach Paramount executives to finalize details of the promised pre-screening proved futile.

Dismayed at Paramount backtracking on the promise of pre-screening, Catholic, Presbyterian, Jewish, Hindu, and Buddhist religious leaders came out in support of “Hindu brothers”, and in a joint signed appeal titled “Clergy’s appeal to Paramount Pictures”, said, “Going back on promise is u n-Christian, un-Hindu, un-Buddhist, un-Jewish, etc., besides being unethical.”

Despite lot of support and encouragement, we faced some criticism also: religion trying to censor free speech; Hinduism is not so weak that a small movie can damage it; why cannot Hindus take a joke; why are you protesting when you have not even seen the movie; pre-emptive attack; this movie is not about Hinduism and Hindus and is a mythical and completely made up system of teachings; who made you the representative of Hindus and speak for them; etc.

Hindus are for free speech as much as anybody else if not more. Hindu tradition encourages peaceful debates, won on their intellectual merit. But faith is something sacred and attempts at belittling it hurt the devotees. Filmmakers should be more sensitive while handling faith related subjects, as cinema is a very powerful medium.

Of course a small movie, which will be forgotten in few months, would not destroy the great tradition of Hinduism which has been around longer than any other established religion and has faced lot of onslaughts and came out stronger. But Hinduism is often misunderstood and wrongly portrayed outside India. Movies like this bring more confusion and create stereotypes in the minds of audience, many of whom may not have had any other exposure to its tenets.

Whatever information we had from trailers, website, etc., clearly gave appearance of lampooning. Repeated attempts to seek more information about the movie from Paramount by dialogue and pre-screening failed. Instead of participating in a mutual dialogue to arrive at an acceptable solution, Paramount just closed the doors like a pigeon that just shuts the eyes and feels contented that cat is not around anymore.

Humor is a part and parcel of Hindu society and our folk festivals, plays, stories, etc., are full of parody, satire, mimicry, buffoonery, etc. We are strong enough to take a joke or rather several jokes. But there are certain convictions in every tradition, which are venerable and not meant to be mocked at.

What would have been a small public relations exercise blew out of proportion because of stubbornness of Paramount or incompetence of their public relations team or something else in their minds that we do not know. From the information available, we felt that the movie seemed repugnant, and let Paramount know our feelings. Besides the initial promise of pre-screening (which they did not fulfill), Paramount made no efforts to convince us otherwise.

People associated with the film might claim that this film had nothing to do with Hinduism and portrays “completely made up system of teachings”. But terms such as guru, ashram, yoga, karma, etc., –all clearly pointed to Hinduism. Some people who have vested interest in the movie have been unsuccessfully trying to defend this apparent mockery and in the process creating more confusion.

The broader aim of worldwide Hindu protests against this movie was to protect the interests of various minorities and ethnicities of the world and save them from future ridicule. Everyone is a minority in some place and in some sense in this world and deserves to be respected. As fellow humans, is it not everybody’s duty to stand for the rights of minorities and speak for them when attempts are made at ridiculing them? Somebody has to make sacrifices so that others can live honorably.

I am very active in interfaith dialogue. Nevada Clergy Association honored me for my interfaith work sometime back. Not only Hinduism, I can very well feel the pain of devotees of various religions/denominations when their faiths are mocked at.

Guru is a highly revered spiritual teacher/master/preceptor in Hinduism who helps remove the ignorance of the seeker and who leads one from darkness to light. The guru-sishya (teacher-disciple) relationship lies at the heart of traditional Hinduism. Guru is often allied with the divine. Guru bestows spiritual knowledge totally free from selfish objectives. The antics of Guru Pitka of The Love Guru from the information available were a mockery of the esteemed institution of guru. Occupation of Guru Pitka on MySpace.com linked to the official site of the movie was listed as “Guru/life guide/Bikini inspector”.

Yoga is one of the six orthodox schools of Hindu philosophy. “The Love Guru” ridiculed yoga in a repugnant way and named some of the yoga poses as “no shoes, no shirt, no nirvana”, “ass, gas and grass”, etc., on the movie site.

The tagline of the movie was “His Karma is huge”. “Karma” is again a very serious term at the core of Hinduism not to be taken frivolously in double meaning taglines. Karma was reportedly first spelled out in Satpatha Brahmana around 600 BCE and forms one of the fundamental components of the Hindu system of philosophy. It is implanted in the idea of rita (universal order), which is the root of dharma. It forms part of the celestial/cosmic law enacted by the gods, and provides earnest testimony of the causation law. Philosophy of Ajivikas was based on this thesis. It finds mention in Bhagavad-Gita, one of the ancient scriptures of Hinduism. Because of significance attached to karmic law, the action is meticulously examined in Hindu philosophy.

With all the buffoonery of “His Holiness Guru Pitka” on the official movie site was shown the image of Lord Ganesh, who is one of the most widely worshipped deities in Hinduism as god of wisdom and remover of obstacles.

My stand throughout the protest has been “from the information available about the movie, it appears to be lampooning Hinduism and Hindus and using Hindu terms frivolously” and the only thing I asked for was pre-screening of the movie so that we can have the first hand information and a civilized dialogue.

Comedy should make everybody smile and should not come at the expense of ridiculing others’ faith and spreading misinformation. Hinduism is the oldest and third largest religion of the world with about one billion followers and a rich philosophical thought and it should not be taken lightly. No faith, larger or smaller, should be ridiculed at.

Moreover, cinema is a forceful medium and it can create stereotypes in the minds of some audiences. So it should handle faith related subjects very carefully.

After seeing the movie, which we found even much more denigrating than we earlier perceived, we gave a worldwide boycott call for it. We urged all people of faith (in addition to Hindus) also to boycott the movie, because today it is Hinduism, tomorrow Hollywood might attempt to denigrate another religion/denomination. We strongly feel that our boycott call was one of the major factors of its blunt failure at the box office.

Guru in “The Love Guru” instigates a bar fight, repeatedly narrates penis jokes, mocks yoga, wears female jewelry, mocks the concept of third eye, makes disciple drink tea passed through his nose, orders alligator soup, induces elephant copulation in front of the crowd, introduces himself as “His H oliness”, lives in a lavish ashram staffed with scantily clad maids, and whose goal in life seems to appear on Oprah Winfrey show.

Going by the subject matter and scenes from the movie, here are my questions: When did Hindu gurus become available “for hire”? When and who started rating them? When did shishyas (disciples) started joining ashram for the sole purpose to make girls like them? Which Hindu ashram organizes fights of disciples with mops soaked in guru’s urine? Which guru urinates in the midst of disciples?

This is pure and blatant ridiculing and Paramount and its parent Viacom should issue a general public apology for denigration of Hinduism and Hindu concepts, utter disregard of the protesters, backtracking on promise to pre-screen the movie for me and other Hindu leaders, making no efforts to have an open civilized dialogue with protesters to arrive at an mutually acceptable solution, etc.

Meanwhile, signature campaign launched by Hindu groups against “The Love Guru” has crossed the 6,900 mark. We are thankful to the USA, Canadian, Australian, etc., (where the movie has been released) filmgoers for having a feel for the pain of Hindu brothers-sisters by rebuffing “The Love Guru”. Daisy Khan, Executive Director of American Society for Muslim Advancement, commented in Newsweek/washingtonpost.com, “I stand with many of my Hindu brothers and sisters. I will not watch this movie.”

On the other hand, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has declared “The Love Guru” “morally offensive” with its highest rating “O”. Harry Forbes, Director of USCCB Office of Film and Broadcasting responsible for reviewing and rating theatrical motion pictures, in his review of “The Love Guru”, said “…Unabashedly vulgar and tasteless, the film, which wallows in endless penis jokes and fairly yucky potty humor…”. “O” is the highest of the five classifications granted by USCCB.

We are very satisfied with the outcome of the protest, which has now become a worldwide movement. In the process, we have been able to create awareness and clarify the Hindu concepts among the populace who was not well aware of Hinduism and its beliefs. Moreover, with this awakening, we hope that future filmmakers will be more sensitive to the feelings of devotees when handling faith related topics. We are thankful to various Hindu and non-Hindu volunteers world over who helped us at different stages of protest.

Our doors are still open for Paramount/Viacom for dialogue.

Rajan Zed is a noted Hindu leader who spearheaded protests against the movie “The Love Guru”.

Love Guru Poster

Love Guru Poster

“The Love Guru” (88 minutes), a comedy starring Mike Myers (of Austin Powers fame), opened June 20 in USA and Canada, and on July 10 in Australia, and is scheduled to be released (or already released) in different parts of the world in the near future. Viacom’s family of brands includes MTV, Paramount, DreamWorks, etc. Paramount Pictures Corporation is a global producer and distributor of filmed entertainment.

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