Amidst global critical and commercial success, “Oppenheimer” and its director Christopher Nolan are being criticized in India over the use of the Hindu scripture Bhagavad Gita during a sex scene between J. Robert Oppenheimer and his one-time romantic partner Jean Tatlock.
In the scene, while taking a momentary break from sex, Tatlock (played by Florence Pugh) takes a look at the bookshelf in Oppenheimer’s bedroom and notes how the physicist (Cillian Murphy) knows many different languages. She pulls a copy of the Bhagavad Gita written in Sanskrit from the shelf and asks Oppenheimer to read it as they resume sex.
As she holds the book open and puts it in front of Oppenheimer, he reads the famous line “I am become death, the destroyer of worlds,” the scene that the real-life Oppenheimer famously said came to mind after his team successfully detonated a nuclear bomb in the Trinity test in New Mexico.
In context, the Bhagavad Gita centers around a conversation between the warrior prince Arjuna and Lord Krishna, an incarnation of the god Vishnu. Krishna says the line as he assumes his divine form to convince Arjuna to perform his duty as a warrior to battle against an opposing army that contains many of his friends and relatives.
India is one of the few countries in the world where “Oppenheimer” has outgrossed “Barbie” at the box office this weekend, as Nolan’s global fanbase has particularly taken root there. But the use of the Bhagavad Gita in that scene drew harsh backlash from Hindus, including government information officer Uday Mahurkar, who wrote an open letter to Nolan calling on him to remove the scene from the film.
“We do not know the motivation and logic behind this unnecessary scene on life of a scientist. But this is a direct assault on religious beliefs of a billion tolerant Hindus, rather it amounts to waging a war on the Hindu community and almost appears to be part of a larger conspiracy by anti-Hindu forces,” Mahurkar wrote.
In a separate statement, Mahurkar also criticized India’s Central Board of Film Certification, the country’s equivalent of the Motion Picture Association ratings board, saying he was “perplexed” that it approved the film with such a scene included. According to The Hindu, the Indian cut of “Oppenheimer” was given a U/A rating by the CBFC, the equivalent of a PG-13 rating, after Universal cut some other scenes for time.
“We are living in a very polarised world. The agencies, media, politics and even your Hollywood film industry is very sensitive about the fact that Quran and Islam is not depicted in any manner that may offend the value system of a common Muslim, even if you make something based on Islamist terrorism,” he wrote in his letter to Nolan. “Why should not the same courtesy be also extended to Hindus?”
Read Mahurkar’s full letter to Nolan in the tweet below.