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Paul CHERUTHOTTUPURAM, Kolkata says,
Film Protest Controversies Help Box Office
By C.M. Paul
360° VIEW
Kolkata, Nov. 26. C.M. Paul*
ROME (SAR NEWS) -- Riding on the waves of a controversy has been an age-old surefire strategy to salvage flop films. Producers of period or religious films, which normally do not attract large crowds of cine-goers, use controversy to keep their film afloat in the box office. They hope sustained column centimetres, as well as sound and visual bytes in the mainstream media will keep the crowds flocking to the cinemas.
In the face of this planned strategy, what should be the reaction of the Indian Church?

The basic instinct of the so-called ``Church people``, who like to be seen and heard as more Catholic than the Pope, is to jump into the fray without a second thought. This is just what filmmakers want, a high-profile controversy giving the film promotional mileage.

The Aquarian Gospel
Controversy has erupted even as the casting begins for the Hollywood-Bollywood action adventure account of Jesus` unrecorded life (13-30 years) in the gospels entitled `The Aquarian Gospel` (The Hindu, Nov. 21 edition).

``The Bible devotes just seven words to the most formative years of Jesus`s life saying: The boy grew in wisdom and stature. The (film) will follow Christ`s journey to the East where he encounters other traditions, and discovers the principles that are the bedrock of all the world`s great religions,`` says the Indian national daily quoting the film director Drew Heriot, whose credits include the cult hit The Secret.

The newspaper further says the producers are hoping for commercial and spiritual gains. ``We think that Indian religions and Buddhism, especially with the idea of meditation, played a big part in Christ`s thinking. In the film we are looking beyond the canonised gospels to the `lost` gospels,`` said the producer William Sees Keenan, who is currently making Lindsay Lohan`s Poor Things.
``We are looking at new themes. In our story, Jesus was loyal to the untouchables and he defended them with his life by saying that everyone could read the Vedas,`` said Keenan.

Season of Controversies
Some three years ago, there was a mild protest over a telefilm entitled Untold Stories of the Messiah, which was in the making, by a Kolkata film company, allegedly for international channel with Tollywood`s leading actors. Last year, another film, The Gospel of Judas also made much sound and fury signifying nothing.

``I don`t know much about Indian sensibilities, but this (The Aquarius Gospel) seems more serious and with more depth than The Da Vinci Code,`` says the former president of Signis World, Father Peter Malone.

Father Malone, a film critic for over 30 years, adds that controversy led to a lot of discussion about the truth of Jesus, Mary Magdalene, the Church and Opus Dei.

``On the whole, I think Opus Dei must be quite happy about The Da Vinci Code and the platform it gave them. Perhaps this film will do the same for Jesus, especially in India,`` says the veteran jury member of several international film festivals.

Fiction Fills In Where Facts Lack
The London-based Missionary of the Sacred Heart priest further explains, ``We see it as a fiction -- and since there are no records (even in Kashmir), any story about Jesus`s hidden years must be fiction. (England believes Jesus came in these years to Glastonbury with Joseph of Arimathea).

And, we remember that the early Church was into all kinds of apocryphal stories about the Holy Family since they felt there were not enough details in the Gospels. Many of these are taken as dogma by many people, including names that were made up centuries after Jesus: Salome, Dismas, Longinus and even Joachim and Anne.``

Father Malone gives the example of an Iranian who made an interesting film about Jesus with two endings -- one from the Qur`an and the other from the Gospels. The Muslim filmmaker hoped that in showing Jesus: the Spirit of God he would foster interfaith dialogue.

``Maybe this one (The Aquarius Gospel) could lead, if well done, to be a meeting point between Christianity and Buddhism (and the opportunity to say that an eye for an eye started to go out of Israel`s spirituality even before Buddha`s time with the prophets),`` says the Australian priest.

Don`t Play Into Their Hands
``I thought some of the Indian reactions to Elizabeth (an allegedly anti-Catholic film) was a bit over the top. It is not that important a film. I suppose the Indian director brought it to attention. It is a throwback to the old jingoistic days and, therefore, to be regretted, but I don`t think it deserves a campaign or censoring,`` opines Father Malone.

``I often feel that Catholics who feel persecuted or targeted then go and do the same with those they do not like or approve of. If Hindu authorities are bigoted against the Church, I don`t think the Church should give an impression of bigotry (as some of the published statements seemed to me).

``Disagreement, yes, and there must be space for reasonable protest and dialogue.  Polemics never won a battle, it merely aggravated it,`` insists the veteran media priest who sees opportunities in every crisis.
(*The author is member of the Central Board of Film Certification, Govt. of India.)
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