India

In India, A New Movie Brings Religion v. Satire Debate To Hindus

A satirical comedy about an alien who comes to earth and questions religious dogma has found an enemy among many of India's Hindus. A new view after the Charlie Hebdo killings.

Aamir Khan in "PK"
Aamir Khan in "PK"
Bismillah Geelani

NEW DELHI — Outside a jam-packed cinema hall in New Delhi, dozens of activists from the Hindu nationalist group Bajrang Dal are protesting against the film PK being show inside.

Among those who burn an effigy of famous Bollywood actor Aamir Khan, who stars in the film's lead role, is Vikas Sharma.

"He has insulted our gods and goddesses," Sharma says. "Hindus will not tolerate this. We won't allow this film to run anywhere in the country. We will attack it everywhere until it's banned."

There have been similar protests in other Indian states, and some cinemas have been severely damaged.

The film tells the story of an alien from space who comes to Earth on a research mission and is unable to return to his home planet after his spaceship's remote control is stolen. While searching for the device, everyone he meets tells him that only God can help him find it. So he embarks on a journey to find God, and in the process comes across various practices, dogmas and superstitions associated with religion, including Hindu, which he questions.


He finds out that most people who claim that they know God and can help others reach him are actually fooling the masses and leading them astray.

Hindu religious leader Swaroopanand Saraswati says he feels deeply offended that a Muslim actor finds fault with his faith. "How can a person who doesn't know anything about our religion make a film about it?" he asks. "Muslims don't need to bother about that. They have no right."

Yoga guru Baba Ramdev says there are double standards when it comes to expression about religion. "People think ten times before making any comment about Christianity or Islam, but when it comes to Hinduism, it's a free-for-all," Ramdev says.

Hindu groups have filed court cases against the film's cast and crew accusing them of blasphemy. But most people associated with the film, including the producer and director, are Hindus themselves and have strongly rejected the charges.

Parikshit Sahni is a veteran actor and plays an important role in the film. "I'm myself a deeply religious person and a practicing Hindu," he says. "I wouldn't have taken part in the film if there had been anything offensive in it. I think the people who are opposing the film have either not seen it or don't understand it. PK is against those so-called "god men" and gurus who mislead people in the name of religion — and we have quite a lot of them. Some of them are behind bars facing charges as serious as rape."

The controversy has given the film lots of free publicity, and people are rushing to see it. Businessman Sahil khanna says he loved it: "Finally a film that looks at some of the important issues of our time."

Two states have so far declared the film tax-free, making it cheaper for people to watch it. Others are set to do the same. The board of film certification has rejected the Hindu groups' demand to review the film and make cuts. The board says the movie has been cleared after due process, and the members found nothing wrong with its content.

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Mariam Nabattu, a religious studies teacher, must work at two schools in central Uganda to make ends meet.

Patricia Lindrio/GPJ Uganda
Edna Namara and Patricia Lindrio

KAMPALA — Allen Asimwe has dedicated more than two decades to teaching geography at a large public high school in southwestern Uganda. Her retirement age, as a public servant entitled to benefits, is just six years away.

She doubts she will wait that long.

“I am determined, I want to quit,” she says, calculating that she could earn more by shifting full time to the salon she opened six years ago to supplement her income. “Given the frustration, I cannot continue in class anymore.”

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