People Are Boycotting Oppenheimer After ‘Disgusting’ Line Offends ‘One Billion People’

Christopher Nolan’s biopic Oppenheimer is a global box office success. But amidst all of its rave reviews comes a wave of backlash from the Hindu right in India. In the center of the outrage is a sex scene where Oppenheimer, played by Cillian Murphy, reads from the Bhagavad Gita, a sacred text in Hinduism.

A member of India’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata party government called the film a “disturbing attack on Hinduism” and accused it of being “part of a larger conspiracy by anti-Hindu forces.”

Controversy Over an Intimate Scene in Oppenheimer

Murphy had read the Bhagavad Gita in preparation for the role. “I thought it was an absolutely beautiful text, very inspiring,” he said to Indian film critic Sucharita Tyagi. “I think it was a consolation to him [Oppenheimer], he kind of needed it and it provided him a lot of consolation, all his life.” Robert Oppenheimer drew much inspiration from Hinduism and its teaching. He had taught himself multiple languages, including Sanskrit.

The film follows Oppenheimer throughout his life, including the invention that became his legacy. He is known today as the “father” of the atomic bomb. In an interview two decades after the Trinity test bomb, the first-ever nuclear explosion on Earth, he said, “We know the world would not be the same.

A few people laughed, a few people cried, and most people were silent. I remembered the line from the Hindu scripture, the Bhagavad Gita; Vishnu is trying to persuade the prince that he should do his duty, and to impress him, takes on his multi-armed form and says, ‘Now I become Death, the destroyer of worlds.’ I suppose we all thought that, one way or another.”

This line is repeated throughout the film, including in the controversial scene. During it, Murphy is having intercourse with Florence Pugh, who plays Oppenheimer’s lover Jean Tatlock. Pugh pauses halfway through, picks up a copy of the Bhagavad Gita, and asks Murphy to read it. He recites the famous line and the two resume love-making.

“This is a direct assault on religious beliefs of a billion tolerant Hindus…”
India’s Information Commissioner and founder of the Save Culture Save India Foundation, Uday Mahurkar, posted an open letter to Christopher Nolan on Twitter. In it, he requested the removal of the intimate scene.

“The Bhagwad Geeta is one of the most revered scriptures of Hinduism. Geeta has been the inspiration for countless sanyasis, brahmacharis, and legends who live a life of self-control and perform selfless noble deeds,” he writes.

“We do not know the motivation and logic behind this unnecessary scene on the life of a scientist. But this is a direct assault on religious beliefs of a billion tolerant Hindus, rather it amounts to waging a war on the Hindu community and almost appears to be part of a larger conspiracy by anti-Hindu forces.”

He continues, saying that the Hollywood film industry seems to be respectful and sensitive when dealing with the topics of Islam or the Quran, and asks for the same courtesy for Hindus.

“We urge, on behalf of billion Hindus and the timeless tradition of lives being transformed by revered Geeta, to do all that is needed to uphold the dignity of their revered book and remove this scene from your film across the world,” Mahurkar concluded. “Should you choose to ignore this appeal it would be deemed as a deliberate assault on Indian civilization.“

The Response

Many people supported this message, including Anurag Thakur, the information and culture minister, who had called for the scene’s removal and action against India’s Central Board of Film Certification. However, others claim the backlash was disproportionate.

While some disapproved of the scene, they didn’t necessarily consider it an attack on Hinduism. Others criticized Mahurkar for speaking for all Hindus or for drawing a comparison to Islam. So far, the film has been successful with Indian audiences, garnering the biggest box office opening day for a Hollywood flick in India in 2023.