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Tuesday, December 12, 2006

The code that still intrigues

The Da Vinci Code has been a crucible for religious dogma, myth and emotions to flourish. Some Catholic countries have taken up the cry to ban this movie, while China does what it pleases, and this time it has flouted a Vatican ban and actually screened the movie there!India seems to always make a noise, just because everyone else seems to be doing it. Is there a case for banning the The Da Vinci Code in India or are the Indian Catholic organizations making an outrageous demand?

Spokesman for the Catholic Bishops Conference of India, Father Dominique Emmanuel told CNBC-TV18, "Not all the Indian Catholics are demanding this (ban). There seems to be one Catholic secular forum, which I happened to hear only in the last few days. I do not know what this organization is and there is one Mr Joseph Dias who is demanding this ban."

The fact is that this movie is based on a novel which is a work of fiction, even though this is something that Sony Pictures, (the producers) are not willing to put as a disclaimer and the author Dan Brown himself believes that Jesus Christs bloodline exists.

So there is enough fuel to keep the fire raging here but there was another Fire a movie made by Deepa Mehta that also created a furore in India because it touched on the topic of lesbianism and that time, it was Father Emmanuel who had called for reason. So whats so different now?

Father Emmanuel says, "I have said the same thing now that it is a work of fiction but having said that, what Dan Brown has cunningly done he has brought in certain factual characters in it. If it was a fiction, why did he not use fictitious characters? The way he is misleading people is that, he is talking about fiction and bringing in real characters like Jesus Christ."

He adds, "But nobody should be stopped to see it. While we are talking about the intolerance of the Christian community, I feel that the media has been a bit intolerant towards those who are protesting it because everyone in this democracy has the right to protest that is freedom of expression. If Dan Brown has a right of freedom of expression to what he does, certainly, there are other people who have a right to protest, if they feel they have to."

But some of the protestors are taking things too far. One of them is an activist, Nicholas Almeida who has asked for both the book and the movie to be banned and also has offered a Rs 11 lakhs as a reward to anyone who delivers Dan Brown dead or alive!

Almeida seems to be the Christian version of a Muslim religious fanatic and he says that he has the right to threaten Dan Browns life because "for the of Jesus Christ I can do anything on this earth because "under the garb of freedom of expression, it does not give licence to any person to show my religion at the lowest level."

Hes also going to increase the reward to Rs 22 lakhs, if the movie is released in India and he plans to stand outside theatres and appeal to people not to watch the movie because it hurts his religious sentiments.

Where religious sentiments are concerned, another book got its author a death sentence. Salman Rushdie lived his life in fear of being killed for his book The Satanic Verses and if that book could be banned, then why cant The Da Vinci Code?

Former Attorney General, Soli Sorabjee though doesnt agree with banning The Satanic Verses in the first place. He explains, "I do not agree that the ban of Satanic Verses was correct and besides what was banned was importation of the book. There was no question of banning the exhibition of the movie, if it has been passed by the Board of Film Censors. The two things are entirely different."

"When one comes to the exhibition of a movie, you are in the realm of Article 19/1A Freedom of Expression which ofcourse is not absolute but the grounds on which it is going to be restricted are specified in the Constitution. The relevant grounds would be either obscenity or immorality. Hurting the feeling of a community is not a ground on which you can ban a book or ban the exhibition of a movie."

He also does not agree with the like of Almeida and says that "someone should file an FIR and then action should be taken against him."

He explains. "In the first case, there is no law of blasphemy in the country. In the Indian Penal Code, it says that if any person deliberately, with malicious intention, publishes something, then he can be prosecuted and punished. That law is there in the Indian Penal Code as far as criminal law is concerned. When we come to the question of exhibiting a movie and censorship the relevant heads for censhorship would be what they consider immoral or indecent. The fact that youve hurt the feelings of some people is not a valid ground."

Managing Partner, Counselage, Suhel Seth puts it in a colourful manner. He says. "There are three things here. One is that Christians, who were known for their tolerance have had within themselves, some elements including people like Almeida who believe that by offering a bounty, they are holier than the church. Nicholas Almeida has brought more disrepute to the Catholic movement and to the church in India, by even offering this bounty because one would not have expected it from Christians."

"If you look at the book, it says there are three facts. It doesn’t talk about the whole book being factual. Today, there is a situation in Mumbai, where you have a gentleman who is saying he will go on a fast unto death."

He adds, "The third point that I need to raise is that, we need to stop when films like The Da Vinci Code is being screened in predominantly Christian/Catholic countries, why should India always be at the periphery of lunacy, when it comes to tolerance of creative expression?" He concludes, "This is a country, where you analyse and analyse till you paralyse."

How true! Meanwhile, a perfectly good movie is being held up because some people, for lack of better sense, are going against the tenets of the God they claim to follow. He talked about peace and justice and love for all mankind and had he lived today, may have just enjoyed the movie with a slight ironic smile like the one which plays on Mona Lisas lips!

Written for www.moneycontrol.com

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