'The Love Guru': Lessons for Hindus

With 'The Love Guru' about to hit American theaters, Hindus must ask themselves: How will we handle this film?

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These two views, as different as they seem, both betray the same shortsightedness and knee-jerk reactions that have become the norm with the Hindu-American community. Could there be better, more effective way of approaching this issue?

I must confess that, for me, the topic holds more than just an academic interest. As a Hindu who was born and raised in America, I've grown up with a certain sensitivity to the way the media presents my faith. Now that I work as a communications specialist, both for my particular religious organization as well as for the broader Hindu tradition, that sensitivity has evolved into a deep desire to advocate for my community. In my experience, I've come to see the benefits of approaching Hinduism in the popular media by first taking a step back and examining the context, intentions, and implications of the depiction. This allows me to classify the depiction according to broad categories and then decide on an appropriate course of action. Using the terminology of the old cowboy movie, I call these categories the "good," the "bad," and the "ugly."


Depictions that are good are ones in which the Hindu tradition is treated fairly and with due respect. These depictions may not always be flattering, and they may even be playfully irreverent. But even as they entertain or amuse, they leave the audience better informed about the faith or present Hindu characters in ways that people can relate to. They build bridges between Hindus and others or help to break down walls of prejudice or ignorance.

To me (and countless other "


" fans), Springfield's

favorite Hindu, Apu Nahasapeemapetilon

, is an example of the good category. He embodies a number of noble qualities and is a valuable member of the town’s pluralistic landscape. Although this character definately fits certain stereotypes (a thick accent, running a convenience store, having an arranged marriage), he also speaks his mind and helps to lightheartedly educate viewers about the deeper meaning underlying those stereotypes. And through Apu's interactions with the other characters, especially boorish Homer or narrow-minded Reverend Lovejoy, we all get to confront our own prejudices or misperceptions in a healthy, safe way.

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