Sharmila Tagore hits out at religious orthodoxy

October 16th, 2008 - 3:50 pm ICT by IANS  

London, Oct 16 (IANS) Nearly 50 years after starring in a film that raised the hackles of orthodox Hindus in India, acclaimed film actor Sharmila Tagore has hit out at religious dogmatists who use faith to “maintain power equation” rather than foster tolerance.Speaking at the screening of “Devi” (The Goddess), Tagore said the 1959 film made by the celebrated filmmaker Satyajit Ray - the tragic story of an orthodox 19th century patriarch’s belief that his daughter-in-law was the reincarnation of Kali - remains “extremely relevant”.

“As long as religion is used to perpetuate ignorance and superstition, as long as religion is used to maintain power equation, as long as the true tolerant, progressive and enlightened spirit of religion eludes mankind ‘Devi’ will remain an extremely relevant film,” Tagore told an audience at the Nehru Centre in London.

The powerful film, screened Wednesday as part of the Centre’s celebration of 60 years of Indian cinema, was condemned as an attack on Hindus when it was first released - and remains a testimony to the courage of Satyajit Ray.

Although the film, inspired by a theme of Rabindranath Tagore’s, won the President’s Gold Medal in 1961, there was a determined attempt to prevent it being shown abroad.

“Ray had to clarify that it is against the orthodoxy of Hinduism, and not against Hinduism per se,” Sharmila Tagore said.

But Ray also admitted much later to his London-based biographer Andrew Robinson that it was not easy to distinguish between extreme orthodoxy and Hinduism, saying: “It’s a thin line.”

The film strikes a further note that resonates with contemporary events in India - the husband of the bride, determined to oppose his father’s blind faith, is guided and influenced by 19th century rationalism through his university professor, who has renounced Hinduism because of its orthodoxy.

Tagore said: “I agree with Andrew Robinson when he says [in summing up Ray's thoughts] that it’s the human mind that creates and recreates god and it’s the human mind which decides whether it’s going to be used for the betterment of mankind or not.”

India-born economist and Bollywood fan Lord Meghnad Desai, also present at the screening, said “Devi” would have provoked a similar reaction if made today.

“They would have started a hangama, or stopped you or gone to the court,” he said.

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