Many Krishna devotees have entertained the hope that one day, Hollywood will produce major motion pictures of India’s most famous spiritual epics, the Mahabharat and Ramayan. I must admit I was among them. These stories are the greatest ever told, dwarfing any previous Hollywood production in terms of scale, story, action, romance and any other category you can think of. Who wouldn’t want to see them on the big screen?
That is, before you realize that Hollywood doesn’t really care about integrity or authorized source material, it just wants cheap entertainment.
For yes, it’s happening. A major Hollywood production of the Ramayan is on its way. But wait! Before you get your hopes up – don’t. Mandalay Pictures’ upcoming movie will be Ramayan in name only.
The movie will be produced by 300's Mark Canton and written by John Collee, who penned the Russell Crowe adventure Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World.
But here’s the zinger: it will not be based on any translation of the Ramayan, but instead on Liquid Comics' graphic novel “Ramayan 3392 AD.”
That title alone should get you worried.
First published in 2006, the comic is the brainchild of writer Shekhar Kapur and pseudo-spiritual self help guru Deepak Chopra. These two have taken the Ramayan – not only a dream film in its original form, but a treasured spiritual and historical classic – and twisted it beyond recognition.
Their story is set in a sci-fi post-apocalyptic future where most of humankind has been wiped out. Rama’s father Dasarath is not king of Ayodhya, as in the real Ramayan, but the leader of a council that rules the city of “Armagarh.” This is the last stronghold of the humans after a nuclear third world war with the Asuras, or demons.
Rama and his brothers Lakshman, Shatrughna and Bharat are sent to defend outposts of the city. But these aren’t the celestial heroes and incarnations of God Himself we are familiar with. After loosing to the Asuras, Rama surrenders to them to allow the citizens safe passage while the Asura destroy the fort he was protecting. This angers the council of Armagarh, who then exile Rama; this is in stark contrast to the real story, where Rama is banished because Dasaratha’s wife Kaikeyi wants her son Bharat to be king instead of Rama.
The authors continue to use all the original Ramayan’s characters and settings in bizarre ways to suit their own whims. For instance, Rama first meets Sita by saving her from an Asura army. And Bharat independently declares himself king of the city in Rama’s absence -- he is not forced to against his will, as in the real Ramayan.
Annoyed yet? Hold on there – things get a hell of a lot weirder. In this futuristic stetting, the Asuras are shape-shifting, teleporting cyborgs. Ravana doesn’t have ten heads, and looks like some sort of swamp monster, instead of the handsome human-like figure he is supposed to be. His capital, rather than being called Lanka, is the ridiculously monikered “Nark.” Sita has magical powers that enable her to control and manipulate nature, which is why Ravan is after her and Rama has been charged with protecting her. Oh, and Rama and Lakshman fly around on Star Wars-type pod vehicles.
As if that isn’t enough, the comics directly offend characters who are worshipable deities to millions of people. Rama surrenders to the enemy once and runs from battle another time in just the first issue. Lakshman is impetuous and unkind. Bharat is a battle-loving warrior. Shatrugna is an overweight nerd who is called “tubby” by the others. The female characters are sidelined and make brief skimpily-clad appearances.
If the Hindu community went up in arms about the Love Guru, they should stop at nothing until this movie has been permanently wiped from Hollywood’s slate. And so should we, as members of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness. The Ramayan is at the very least respected as a religious classic full of spiritual and moral wisdom. At most, it’s accepted as pure historical fact, the sojourns of God Himself on earth. To whimsically alter the characters and story to such a huge extent is disrespectful and sacrilegious. Can you imagine what the Islamic community would do if somebody made a popular comic book and movie about a futuristic Mohammed whizzing around on Star Wars flying machines?
While we love the Mahabharat and Ramayan, the actual benefit of any movie, even if based on authorized source material, is dubious. In August 1974, ISKCON founder Srila Prabhupada wrote to aspiring film-maker Caruhasa Dasa: “I do not care very much for these filmings because by presenting Krishna in this way it makes it something like fantasy. It is better to have people read the Krishna books that I have written so that they can understand Krishna fully.”
Considering this statement, can you imagine what effect a movie like Ramayan 3392 will have? For the masses, this will be their first, and possibly only, contact with the Ramayan – registering it in their minds as a silly sci-fi romp, a veritable laughing stock.
If a movie is made, it should at least be done with the heavy involvement of true scholars and devotees so that the right sentiment is present. This has certainly been done before to some level with biblical epics and the like. Even fictional films like Gladiator and Lord of the Rings have some brevity and respect for their characters.
And at least get the story right!
For me, the worst aspect of this whole thing is that you could find no better story to base a movie upon than the original Ramayan. As I said, it has everything Hollywood could every look for: scale, action, adventure, romance, intrigue, and more. It exhilarates you and tugs on your heartstrings. And it even delivers deep insights into life, morals and philosophy that will stay with you long after you leave the theater.
How two Indians -- Shekhar Kapur and Deepak Chopra -- could destroy their own heritage so horribly is beyond me. How Hollywood could be aware that the bare bones of these comics are stolen from an ancient masterpiece, and could use them instead of the source material, also evades me.
Let’s boycott this production in any way we can.
Or even better, let’s send an army of monkeys to do it for us.