It’s decidedly a first at the Vatican. On Tuesday, May 22, the Pope Benedict XVI and his colleagues at the Vatican City will be watching a Bollywood film, and that too a film that espouses the teachings of Hinduism and propagates the virtues of secularism by showing its rigid Hindu Pundit hero (Pankaj Kapoor) embracing an orphaned Muslim child as his own.
The film is Bhavna Talwar’s Dharm released in 2007. So what took the Vatican so long to wake up to Talwar’s film’s message on the one-ness of religion and human-kind?
“I don’t know!” says the stunned director who is now working on a bio-pic on Rajiv Gandhi. “It was done by an Italian friend, a filmmaker named Franco la Cecla who’s close to the Vatican. It was he who thought Dharm is a work that the Pope and the Vatican should see. I think it is the message of the one-ness of humanity which Franco thought would appeal to the Pope.”
On hearing about Dharm, the Pope apparently showed a keen interest, and a print of the film has been sent to the Vatican following a tough travel plan that included going through the very rigid rules of entry into Vatican City.
Says Bhavna, “It wasn’t easy getting my film to the Vatican City. But it’s now all in place. The screening is scheduled for Tuesday.”
Regrettably, Bhavna can’t be physically present as she is down with a slipped disc and unable to move for the next one month. Says the director, “It is sad. But I am immovable at a time when I would have liked to be present at this historic event. For me the most interesting aspect of this happening is the way the custodians of one religion have shown a keenness to appreciate art depicting another religion. Dharm is a very ‘Hindu’ film. But it also shows that every religion is essentially about tolerance and amity. I see no contradiction in the Pope watching Dharm. To be a small part of that movement towards a universal humanity makes me feel proud and humbled at the same time.”
The director and her producer-husband Sheetal Vinod Talwar now have plans to release an international version of Dharm in English after the Pope watches the film on Tuesday.
We tried to contact Pankaj Kapoor for his reaction to this significant happening. But he remained unavailable for comment.