Indian Americans upset with Tina Turner as Durga
Friday, 27 February 2004, 20:30 IST
Chicago, Some Indians are dismayed at Tina Turner essaying the role of the Hindu goddess Durga in Ismail Merchant's latest film, saying her pop star image is anything but divine. At the centre of the protests is Chicago businessman Avi Verma, who says he is an avid devotee of Durga. Verma, president of the Jai Jagadambe Foundation, has been organising 'jagrans', or community prayer sessions, every year. He also runs Jagran TV, a not-for-profit group that telecasts devotional songs dedicated to the deity. Verma said he and other Hindus strongly objected to Turner playing Durga because her pop star image did not go well with the role she was set to play. "Turner's website features half naked pictures of her. How does Merchant reconcile this image with the role of Durga? We devotees see the mother in Durga. Will any Indian want to see his mother half naked?" Verma told IANS. Verma and other Durga devotees have launched a signature campaign, urging Merchant to drop Turner from the lead role. Verma has received supportive e-mail messages from scores of Indian Americans and temple officials in the US. Filmmaker Merchant, however, is unfazed. In a letter to Verma from London, Merchant said: "The views you express seem to indicate a certain narrow-mindedness about who is allowed to represent the goddess - as though it is in your power to decide where and how she is represented. We are here to show her generosity and charisma - and not to denigrate her. "I hope you have seen the Satyajit Ray film 'Devi' (goddess) in which a father-in-law prostrates himself at the feet of his daughter-in-law. Do you consider this to be sacrilegious? No. So, if a Muslim wants to show the goddess in her glory - is that denigration? "Maa Durga is reflected through the power of Shakti (energy) in every human being, whether Hindu, Muslim, Christian, Buddhist, Jew or Jain. We are only interested in shakti - the power that is embodied in all religions and all faiths in the world. "My first point is that Durga's power is to manifest herself in many different forms, and it is her devotees' duty to recognise her in all things. "There can therefore be no contradiction or offence in our casting Tina Turner - in fact it is impossible to imagine a human being with more magic and charisma than Tina Turner or one more able to act in the role of the goddess." An incensed Verma said Turner had been cast for commercial considerations. Verma said he suspected that Merchant had been inspired by Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ", which raked in more than $23 million on the first day itself. "There is no art or devotion involved. Turner is there to draw the Western audience," he said. "Durga devotees pray to a Kanjak (a girl of 12 years or under), because we consider her a symbol of purity. We see Durga in Kanjak. Can we say the same thing about Turner?" he said. "If it is not a caricature of Shiva (in a Chicago disco), it is Ganesha on toilet paper (made by a US manufacturer). We Hindus have always been at the receiving end because we are too civilised. This has got to stop," he said.