A statement by Ismail Merchant concerning the proposed film project to be directed by Ismail Merchant and starring Tina Turner
Following my recent trip to India with Tina Turner in preparation for a film project on which we are collaborating, we sought to experience some of the many cultural and spiritual wonders to be found there. Subsequently a small contingent claiming to represent rightwing Hindus have found reason to express "outrage" that I should have dared to cast Tina Turner in the role of Shakti, complaining that her reputation as a "sex icon" disqualifies her for the part.
Putting these objections in their proper context it is immediately obvious that they are based on misconceptions about the film - our story is based in part on a story in the 'Kathasaritasagara' (a vast collection of Indian folk tales) and takes place in ancient India with other parts of the story set in the west. Contrary to the accusations of the objectors, nobody is going to sing and dance on the back of a tiger, the Goddess is not going to be half-naked, or a sex symbol. Most importantly, 'The Goddess' is not meant to be a specific representation of a single deity, whether Kali, Laxmi or Durga. She is Shakti, the universal feminine energy, which is manifest in Kali, Durga, Mother Mary, Wicca, and each and every woman on the planet. The film has been conceived in order to celebrate this energy, not denigrate it.
Tina Turner is one of the great artists of our time and has been a practicing Buddhist for the last twenty years. She has thrown herself whole-heartedly into the project. In her recent trip to India, she said that she felt she had come home. An artist of such international stature should be welcomed coming to India, learning our traditions in order to portray them so that the whole world may know the glory of our music, dance, and spiritual ethos.
The film is being made in a spirit of reverence. Nobody has the right to dictate how one should worship the Goddess - or to discriminate against an artist who seeks to portray her. The Goddess spreads her compassion and her divine wisdom to all people, whether Hindu, or Muslim, or Christian, or atheist. A true devotee should join with us in celebrating a film that will spread the life-affirming message of Devi all over the world.
What gives me reason for hope within this knot of conflict is that I believe that the majority of my countrymen and women in India will recognise this project for what it is and will not be swayed by those few extremists who are attempting to create a crisis where there is none. I am encouraged in this hope knowing that all Hindus will recognise one of Hinduism's central messages: "Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam" - all of creation is one family.