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June 20, 2008 (Minneapolis, MN) - Bowing to continued pressure from the Hindu American Foundation (HAF) demanding a pre-screening of the film, "The Love Guru,", Paramount Pictures requested the Foundation to view the film just hours before its release last night. More than two dozen members of the local Hindu community gathered at a movie theater in downtown Minneapolis, Minnesota, along with Foundation leaders to take in a screening of the film and then met to fill out a special survey and offer comments and criticisms. HAF agreed to view the film, even at the eleventh hour, to be able to inform the Hindu American community in light of concerned inquiries that have been pouring into its national headquarters.
The film depicts Mike Myers as the "Guru Pitka," an American raised in India to missionary parents, who establishes an ashram in California seeking fortune as a self-help expert. The story follows the character as he seeks fame in bringing together a hockey player and his estranged wife. The film is portrayed as a satirical spoof of self-help coaches, referring to Deepak Chopra several times, but the film's main character is clearly inspired by Hindu spiritual leaders from India gleaned from the attire and mannerisms of Myers' character.
"The film was vulgar, crude and, in the opinion of many of our attendees, too often tasteless in its puerile choice of humor," said Aseem Shukla, member of the Foundation's Board of Directors. "Very few of the Hindus viewing the film, however, found it overtly anti-Hindu or mean-spirited, indeed no Hindu or Sanskrit terms beyond 'guru' or 'ashram' are ever used in the film. But given the costumes and overall concept of the film, Paramount would have done well to issue a disclaimer in the opening sequence that the characters and events are not based on Hindu spiritual masters."
Viewers filling out the survey were unanimous in their opinion that popular media's coverage of Hinduism does not accurately reflect the belief systems and practices of Hindus, and most agreed that the film will be widely seen as a satire of a Hindu character--though this is never overtly stated in the film. But the same majority of respondents denied that the average American viewer of the film will assume that the "teachings" of the Myers character are based on precepts of Hinduism.
"This film was so over-the-top as a satire, that it could not be mistaken with real Hindu traditions," said Shyam Shivramakrishnan, a University of Minnesota doctoral student and HAF member attending the screening. "Those who ridicule Hindus based on this film would be using the movie as a pretext to exhibit pre-formed biases--it is unlikely to create new ones."
Still, many of the Foundation members expressed unease that since widespread understanding of Hinduism and its core teachings is so limited, this film does nothing to promote tolerance and pluralism, and may reinforce widely held negative and exotic stereotypes of Hindus and their spiritual leaders.
"The mass media, and especially prominent studios must move away from such ridiculous caricatures of Hindus and Indians--in that sense, another opportunity was lost," added Sivakumaran Raman, a health care consultant also based in Minneapolis.
The film opens today in theaters across the nation and has largely been panned by movie critics from all major media outlets.