“Now I am become death, the destroyer of Indian box office figures.”
A scene in Christopher Nolan’s new biopic Oppenheimer has stoked controversy in India over a scene where actors read from the Bhagavad Gita.
The film, which has Cillian Murphy play J. Robert Oppenheimer, the man behind the invention of the atom bomb, has Murphy reading from the holy text during a sex scene with his lover Jean Tatlock (played by Florence Pugh).
Murphy quotes the famous extract, “Now I am become death, the destroyer of worlds”, a line the physicist would become forever associated with after he recalled it when witnessing the first test detonation of a nuclear bomb.
The real Oppenheimer was known to have a great interest in mysticism and taught himself Sanskrit to read texts like the Bhagavad Gita. However, the use of the holy text during a sex scene has drawn ire from Hindus.
Save Culture Save India Foundation released a statement calling for an investigation into the scene, with its founder and government information commissioner Uday Mahurkar saying it was “a direct assault on religious beliefs of a billion tolerant Hindus.” It constituted “waging a war on the Hindu community,” Mahurkar continued.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has also called the film an “attack on Hinduism”.
Some Hindus have also taken to social media to criticise the explicit scene with #BoycottOppenheimer trending.
There are also reports that a nude scene featuring Pugh has been digitally edited to put a CGI black dress on the actor.
Despite the criticism, Oppenheimer has had an impressive opening weekend in Indian cinemas. While in most markets, Greta Gerwig’s more family-friendly Barbie has outperformed the three-hour period drama, in India, Oppenheimer had the bigger market share.
The film made Rs 60 crore, or 600 million rupees (€6.5 million) across 1,923 screens, nearly triple the amount Barbie took. It’s the biggest opening weekend for a Hollywood film in India this year and is the third biggest opening in the world behind the US and the UK.
In India, the film is rated U/A, recommending parental guidance for viewers under the age of 12.