Daniel Craig in "Skyfall", the latest installment of the James Bond franchise
Hanns-Georg Rodek

BERLIN - Chinese censors have made some significant changes to several parts of the latest James Bond film “Skyfall.” One scene, showing a French hitman killing a Chinese guard in a Shanghai skyscraper, was cut out entirely. So was a mention of prostitution in Macau.

Other changes are reflected in the subtitles. In the original version of the movie, Bond asks a hostess if she got her tattoo because she was forced into prostitution as a child. The Chinese subtitles change this and have Bond asking the young woman if she has connections to the Mafia. The subtitles also leave out entirely what bad guy Javier Bardem has to say about the torture he suffered at the hands of Chinese police.

And yet making substantive changes when a movie is translated into another language is hardly limited to the Chinese. Right after the end of World War II, the Germans censored Alfred Hitchcock’s “Notorious” (1946). In the film, Cary Grant finds uranium powder hidden in wine bottles in the cellar of a Nazi who has fled to Rio de Janeiro and smuggles German war criminals into Brazil.

In Germany, the movie came out in 1951 bearing the title “Weißes Gift” (White Poison). Right after the war, the German distributors didn’t want a story about Nazis – so when the movie was dubbed the entire plot was changed into a story about drug trafficking, and even the names of the German characters were changed to non-German names. In 1969, when a restored version of the movie was released in Germany, there was still no mention of IG Farben (a conglomerate of German chemical companies involved in many World War II war crimes) that in the original version of the film is the force pulling the bad guys’ strings.

Monaco slams “fictional” biopic

This type of commercial censorship – which is not any better than political censorship – has not disappeared in the West. On the contrary, it’s becoming more prevalent. Those born after 1984 might not remember the day the Soviet Union invaded the United States. It began when parachutists descended on the small town of Calumet. They shot the place up, burned books and even occupied the drive in. Similar scenarios were going on all over America. Fortunately some high school students were able to get away to the mountains where, led by Patrick Swayze and calling themselves the Wolverines, they embarked on a guerilla war against the invaders.

“Red Dawn” is now nearly 30 years old. In the 2012 remake, the invaders are the Chinese, supported by the Russians. That is, they were Chinese when the movie was shot – but when it was released the Chinese had become North Koreans. With the help of the new digital eraser (and at a cost of $1 million to MGM) all Chinese flags and other symbols had disappeared and had been replaced by North Korean ones.

The changes weren’t even prompted by any official Chinese complaint. A few feature articles in Chinese state-owned newspapers and critical comments on Chinese websites were enough to make MGM change its mind: after all, a lot was at stake: the movie studio was hoping for big-time profits from the distribution in China of “The Hobbit” and "Skyfall." After all, the last Bond brought in $21 million in China, which is the fifth biggest movie market outside North America.

Hopes were dampened however when China postponed the premiere of “Skyfall” from November (which is when it opened in the rest of the world) to December – presumably to make room for their own November blockbusters like Feng Xiaogang’s “Remembering 1942” and Lu Chuan’s “The Last Supper.” The postponement led to the ironic fact that the uncensored Bond film in China can only be seen on pirated copies.

We can now look forward to the biopic “Grace of Monaco,” due out next year. Although shooting isn’t even over yet, Prince Albert of Monaco and his two sisters have released a statement that reads in part: "For us, this film does not constitute a biographical work but portrays only a part of Grace Kelly’s life and has been pointlessly glamorized and contains important historical inaccuracies as well as scenes of pure fiction." Despite the angry tone of the press release, there has so far been no talk of bringing a suit against the moviemakers.

The film focuses on the 1961-1962 years, when Kelly had ended her Hollywood career and reigned as Princess Grace in the tiny Mediterranean principality alongside her husband Rainier III. At the time, relations between Monaco and France were strained because of the former’s tax policies. Grace is said to have played an important role in finding a compromise to the conflict.

"Albert, Caroline and Stephanie read the script twice, and didn’t request any major changes," producer Pierre-Ange Le Pogam said last month. The reason for their apparent change of mind could be an article that appeared in French magazine Paris Match in which the film’s director Olivier Dahan implied that the Monaco royals had approved his script. Now the palace is saying that it requested changes that weren’t made.

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Ideas

Reading Rumi In Kabul: A Persian Poet's Lesson For Radical Islam

Born some eight centuries ago, the famed poet and philosopher Rumi offered ideas on religion that bear little resemblance to the brand of Islam being imposed right now in Afghanistan by the Taliban regime.

The work of 13th-century poet Rumi still resonsates today

Mihir Chitre

Among the various Afghan cities that the Taliban has invaded and apparently "reclaimed" in recent weeks is Balkh, a town near the country's north-western border. Interestingly, it was there, about 800 years ago, that a man called Jalal ad-Din Mohammad Balkhi, better known as Rumi, was born.

Some see the grotesque exhibitionism of the Taliban advance as a celebration of Islam or a "going back to the roots" campaign. As if followers of Islam were always like this, as if every willing Muslim always propagated austerity and oppressiveness. As if it was always meant to be this way and any shred of liberalism was a digression from the quest of the religion.

In fact, a look at the history of the religion — and of the region — tells a different story, which is why there's no better time than now to rediscover the wisdom of the poet Rumi, but without doing away with its religious context.


In a world where Islam is a popular villain and lots of terrible acts across the world in the name of the religion have fueled this notion among the West and among people from other religions, it's paramount that we understand the difference between religion as a personal or spiritual concept and religion as an institution, a cage, a set of laws created to control us.

Why do you stop praying?

To begin with, and largely due to the film Rockstar, the most famous Rumi quote known to Indians goes like this: "Out beyond the ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there's a field. I'll meet you there."

Rumi's original Persian verse, however, uses the words kufr (meaning infidelity) and Imaan (meaning religion), which was translated as "wrongdoing" and "rightdoing." To me, the original verse surpasses the translation with a vital, often missed, often deliberately forgotten, interpretation, which is to highlight the fact that there is humanity, love and compassion or a certain kind of mystical quality to life beyond the concept of religion and that is the ultimate place, the place where Rumi invites us to meet him.

It would be incorrect now to read this and think of Rumi as irreligious. In fact, he was quite the opposite. But his interpretation of religion was personal, spiritual and not institutional or communal or exhibitionist.

In one of his poems, translated by Coleman Banks as "Love Dogs" in English, a man who has stopped praying to God because he never got a response meets "Khidr," an angel messenger, in his dream:

Why did you stop praising (or praying)?

Because I've never heard anything back.

This longing you express is the return message.

To me, through this poem, it's clear that Rumi advocates for a personal relationship with God. In fact, he goes on to say that being true to God is to long for his validation or nod, that life is longing.

A copy of Rumi's spiritual couplets at the Mevl\u00e2na Museum in Konya, Turkey

A copy of Rumi's spiritual couplets at the Mevlâna Museum in Konya, Turkey — Photo: Georges Jansoone/Wikimedia

Don't sweep the history of Islam with the broom of radicalism

For those familiar with the European literature of the 20th century, I could say that this echoes the ideas of Samuel Beckett. But remember: Rumi lived 800 years ago, at the heart of what we call the "Muslim world." To equate Islam on the whole with repressiveness and hostility, as many of us do today, might just be a criminal contradiction then.

It's also interesting to note that after the Quran, Rumi's is probably the most widely read work in the Islamic world, which suggests that Rumi's ideas, which may sound too progressive for anyone remotely associated with Islam in today's world, have, in fact, been accepted and cherished by the Islamic world for centuries. Sweeping the whole history of the Islamic world with the broom of radicalism wouldn't then be the fairest assessment of either the religion or of radicalism.

This physical world has no two things alike.
Every comparison is awkwardly rough.
You can put a lion next to a man,
but the placing is hazardous to both.

(From the poem: "An Awkward Comparison")

It's tragic that the Taliban has ravaged the same place with their own power-hungry, totalitarian interpretation of the religion which once produced a mind that embraces it with wide arms of warmth and peace and refuses to be compared with other followers of the same.

How to cure bad habits?

It is vital for us to separate groupism or communalism, which often escalates to barbarism, from the thought it is based on. It is vital then to read and reread that what Rumi sees as religion is the private association with God. It is also vital to mark the emphasis on individuality in Rumi's thought.

All the Western ideas of liberalism are based on the idea of individuality, which in turn is based on post-renaissance European thought. Asian philosophy is contrasted with its Western counterpart in the fact that it is rooted in mysticism as opposed to individuality.

Islam itself has long had a tradition of mysticism that is known as Sufism. Sufism is a sort of an inward dimension of Islam, a practice that encourages a direct, personal connection with the divine, a spiritual proximity to the omniscient that transcends the physical world and temporarily subverts immediate reality.

Sufism is the quest for the truth of love and knowledge, without necessarily always distinguishing between the two. Rumi was known as the Mevlana (Maulana) and his poetic collection Masnavi meaning "the spiritual couplets" is known as the Persian Quran. He was no doubt a mystic, a Sufi, and one who strongly endorsed the personal, for the most intimately individual is the truly spiritual.

Rumi might remain unparalleled in not just the Islamic world but also in the world of philosophy and poetry across the globe. Another thing that he will remain is dead. The Taliban, on the other hand, at least for now, looks rampant and alive.

It is now up to us, the other people who are alive, and the ones who are going to be born — not just Muslims but everyone else as well — to choose which interpretation of Islam we uphold or react to, how we read history, and what we borrow from it.

How to cure bad water? Send it back to the river.
How to cure bad habits? Send me back to you.

(From the poem: "My Worst Habit")

I think what we, as a world, need now more than ever is to be sent back to Rumi.

https://thewire.in/culture/re-reading-rumi-in-the-time-of-the-taliban
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