This post is inspired by my last-night viewing of a fantastic 2000 Indian film called “Hey Ram“: Oh God! The film apparently flopped in India but was acclaimed in international film circles. I loved it too, and though many of you may also enjoy it, there are reasons you may not – which I will share at the end of this post.
Humans are social animals with the cognitive proclivity to follow leaders. This tendency varies from individual to individual, but overall, stable populations are naturally comprised of mostly followers. For this reason, leader worship, hero idolization and saint modeling are common since they reinforce the leader-follower model. But such a political cognitive habit comes at a cost: honesty. Heros are exaggerated, embellished and mythologized so as to be more easily followed. Yet eventually, the few who rebel against these hypnotic political hero movements pull back the curtain hiding the hero’s dark side or create counter myths. Here are just a few examples of heros with dark sides:
- Rama (Hindu god)
- Jesus (Christian god)
- Mother Teresa (Christian saint)
- Mahatma Gandhi (Hindu saint)
Rama, (also pronounced “Ram”), is considered an incarnation of the Hindu god “Vishnu”. Literalist Hindus claim he was incarnated in 5114 BCE or even earlier, while other “scholars” vary in their estimates between 600s to 500s BCE with Rama being only a minor chief at that time. These Ram stories evolved right around the time that the Jewish Torah was creating Yahweh stories (see my diagram here). The best known story of Rama is found in the epic the Ramayana. And in my series on the Ramayana, we learn the following:
- Studying the textual history of the Ramayana, we can see that Rama was eventually transformed into a full blown god, much like Jesus in the Christian Scriptures.
- Just as Judas stories flipped to make him a hero, Rama stories were turned on end by rebels to make Ravana (his enemy) virtuous too. These are attempts at overthrowing orthodox use of Rama stories.
- The Ramayana has a hidden underside showing a conflict between North (Aryan) and South (Dravidian) India just as the Christian Bible shows has a background conflict between Jewish-centered vs. Gentile-centered Christianities.
The Dark Side of other Heros
Jesus has his dark sides, but that will have to wait for future posts. Jesus’ follower, the supposed saint Mother Teresa also had her dark sides exposed by many folks — see the Wiki article. And finally, the film I saw last night touched on the dark side of the Hindu saint Mahatma Gandhi.
In the movie “Hey Ram” we get a hint of the downside of Gandhi’s political policies. You can find many websites discussing his other shortcomings. Gandhi was assassinated by a fellow Hindu from a group who felt Gandhi’s policies sold out to Muslims and actually resulted in the slaughter of Hindus. In Hey Ram, the anti-hero joins that movement and is assigned to kill Gandhi to stop the slaughter of Hindus. We get to feel the villain’s perspective in this film.
Don’t get me wrong, like many of you, I have long held Gandhi as a hero in my brain — mine works like everyone else’s. But I also love seeing controversy that shakes my normalcy and this film helped. Yet in the end, Gandhi is elated back into sainthood — you will have to read other books if you want to deeply change your image of Gandhi — this film will only offer you temporary doubt.
Obstacles to “Hey Rama”
Though I found this film fantastic, here are reasons you may not enjoy it:
- It is 3 hours 20 minutes long
- It is subtitles: the film is bilingual: Tamil & Hindi
- Much is missed if you aren’t familiar with:
- India’s partition history
- India’s religious history
- The mythological quality of Mahatma Gandhi
- The myth of Gandhi’s supposed last words: “Hey Ram”
- Some is missed if you aren’t familiar with:
- North-South India difference
- The Story of the Ramayana
- The mythological quality of Gandhi
- Bollywood culture
“Hey Ram” was very controversial in India, pissing off almost every group’s favorite sensibility — all the more reason to watch this if you have any interest in India.
Is Background needed?
I wrote here that the Bible is not fantastic literature, and Ian recently wrote that the Bible is not particularly useful. These sort of posts stir all sorts of feelings and endless debates, of course. I think that even without Bible knowledge, Western Literature still has much to offer. Heck, even without all the background I tell you above, “Hey Ram” can still reveal many deep principles and feelings. So take a chance, give if a view if you have the time.
The world is huge, I watch lots of foreign films from countries whose history I am clueless about and still enjoy them. I think you could still enjoy “Hey Ram” without any of the info above.
Questions for readers: Did this post teach you anything new or entice you to click a link or watch the movie? Share your thoughts!