Date of Publication: 09/1999
Author: R S Shankar
Bowing to pressure by the American Hindus Against Defamation and its allies, Warner Bros agreed on Monday to delete from the soundtrack the Bhagvad Gita used in an orgy scene in Stanley Kubrick’s controversial film, Eyes Wide Shut. The movie, starring Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman, explores the darker side of a marriage, and ends up supporting monogamy.
Hailed by many leading critics as one of the finest films in recent years, it was slammed by other critics including the influential Pauline Kael who came out of retirement to drub it as ‘a piece of crap.’
It ends its American run with a disappointing $ 56 million at the box-office. It is showing on about 400 screens, and in a week, it would lose about 300. The movie will briefly play in second-run movie houses.
A spokesperson for Warner said the agreement reached with the Hindu groups does not affect the prints which are being used in cinemas in the countries where the film is in release.
Over 1,500 prints used in America would not be touched, Warner said, adding that where ever the film is in release, the shloka will remain. For instance, the print unveiling at the prestigious Venice Film Festival’s opening night today will have the shloka. But the television and video versions of the film in all countries will not have the shloka, the spokesperson added. The movie will be aired on American television after about six months. It will be available on video a few weeks thereafter.
Eyes Wide Shut is currently running in Japan, where it is a big hit, and has grossed over $ 10 million. It is expected to end up with an impressive $ 25 million gross. In Australia, where many moviegoers walked out during several screenings, it has earned a modest $ 4.5 million. A Warner spokesperson said the prints there will not be altered.
In England, Germany, Italy and a dozen countries, however, the print will be shown without the shloka. The movie will be shown on more than 350 screens in England shortly. American-born Kubrick made England his home for more than two decades.
“It is significant the decision to delete the shloka came on the eve of the British release and at the end of the American engagement,” said one Hindu activist. “Someone in England must have thought of the huge protests there when Salman Rushdie’s book The Satanic Verses was released. Surely, we were not going to do anything as foolish as that, but what the heck, we are glad that some sense has dawned on the producers at last.”
Nancy Kirkpatrick, senior vice-president for publicity at Warner Bros, said Jan Harlan, the London-based executive producer of Eyes Wide Shut, was shocked to learn about the hurt experienced by Hindu groups. Harlan has repeatedly said there was any intention to slight or hurt anybody, she said.
“Kubrick too never intended to offend Hindus,” Kirkpatrick said, after discussing the issue with Harlan and others associated with the movie which was shot completely in England. “He was offered a number of chants and he chose one without realizing its meaning.”
Kubrick had the final cut say in the movie, but the director died soon after the film was completed and edited for release. A few days before the movie’s release, Warner digitally masked part of the orgy scene in America to avoid a rating problem. Some critics and Kubrick fans protested, but since the movie, which took a strong $ 30 million in the opening week, began slipping at the box-office with a 50 per cent decline each week, the protests went unheeded.
Hindu groups had argued that if Warner could soften the impact of the orgy scenes, they could delete the shloka from the movie.
“We gave them 13 days notice,” said Ajay Shah, convener of the AHAD. “We said there would be protests wherever the movie is going to be released and Warner Bros – or anyone for that matter — should not think they could get away offending Hindus across the world.”