‘Now I am become death’: ‘Oppenheimer’ sex scene enrages Hindu nationalists

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Christopher Nolan’s nuclear biopic Oppenheimer has been accused of “waging a war” on Hinduism by Indian officials outraged over a sex scene that quotes from scripture.

The Hollywood blockbuster tells the story of US physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer, often described as the father of the atomic bomb.

Florence Pugh as Jean Tatlock and Cillian Murphy as J. Robert Oppenheimer.Credit: AP

One scene shows Oppenheimer, played by Cillian Murphy, with his lover Jean Tatlock, played by Florence Pugh, in which she asks him to read from the Bhagavad Gita, the most sacred Hindu text.

Murphy reads the line “Now I am become death, the destroyer of worlds”, the quote which Oppenheimer reportedly recalled when the first atomic bomb he invented was detonated.

The nuclear physicist, who died in 1997, often cited the role Hindu scripture played in shaping his outlook on life and learnt Sanskrit to be able to read Hindu texts in their original form.

The film opened in India on Friday to positive reviews, and grossed around 600 million rupees ($10.8 million) at the box office over the weekend.

But it has prompted outrage among the Hindu right, and from officials in the ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

Uday Mahurkar, a senior official at the government’s Central Information Commission, said the scene was “a direct assault on religious beliefs of a billion tolerant Hindus”.

In an open letter to Nolan, he urged the director to cut the scene, saying: “It amounts to waging a war on the Hindu community”.

Critics say religious intolerance has been growing in the world’s most populous country since the nationalist government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi came to power in 2014.

Hindus are the majority in India but minorities, including Muslims, form a significant part of the population.

Hashtags such as #BoycottOppenheimer and #RespectHinduCulture have been trending on Twitter.

“This should be investigated… on an urgent basis and those involved should be severely punished,” the nationalist Save Culture Save India Foundation said.

The comments by Mahurkar, the organisation’s founder, condemning the movie were also retweeted more than 3600 times.

Anurag Thakur, the information and culture minister, also demanded that the scene be removed and called for action to be taken against India’s Central Board of Film Certification.

The film was rated U/A, which recommends parental guidance for viewers aged under 12.

Harris Sultan, an author, said Hindus were “left angry and perplexed at the blatant disrespect” of the sex scene in Oppenheimer.

Vishwa Hindu Parishad, a prominent right-wing Hindu organisation, said the movie was an attempt to “launch an attack” on Hindu society and demanded the scene be cut.

Oppenheimer is not the first production to draw the ire of Indian officials since the BJP entered government.

Amazon Prime was forced to cut a scene in its 2021 drama Tandav and summoned for a meeting by India’s Information and Broadcast Ministry after it was accused of insulting Hinduism.

The BBC/Netflix television adaptation of A Suitable Boy was also subjected to police complaints for containing a scene of an interfaith couple kissing.

Telegraph, London

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