“Signs” gives God a starring role

(This article was posted in the “Meditations” column of the Hindustan Times on 14 September 2002.) MANOJ NIGHT Shyamalan’s parents, who emigrated to the US, wanted him to be a doctor like them. They were hurt when he announced that he would attend film school at New York University. But after Sixth Sense earned over US$325 million, their attitude softened. His newest film, Signs, has grossed over US$205 million to date, making it potentially another all-time hit. It openly parades a religious theme, including the notion that there are “two kinds of created beings”: the *Daivas* and the *Asuras* or the godly and the non-godly. (Gita 16.6) Lapsed Catholic priest Graham Hess (Mel Gibson) sums it up. He mutters reflectively but clearly that there are two kinds of people in this world, those who think there’s something out there with a greater plan and those who think “we’re on our own.” It’s rare, especially these days, that a nebulous sense of spiritual dimensions, let alone a conviction that God exists, becomes a premise anywhere in popular culture. It’s unusual — full stop — that transcendent reality is featured in entertainment. More than a metaphysical fable, this film’s thesis is loud and clear: “God exists, He’s moral, and He’s going to protect me and my family.” This is the same proclamation one encounters at the very end of the Gita when the Lord assures Arjuna that wherever there is God, “there will also certainly be opulence, victory, extraordinary power, and morality.” Unlike many other Indian expatriates who have successfully plied a trade in the US, Shyamalan here publicises an awareness of God. And it’s surprising and refreshing that this message emanates from the most influential media known to humankind. Signs is definitely against the Hollywood grain. Maybe it’s a lot to hope for, but if Indian culture is to influence the world positively, global cirietna might be the place to do it. Film director Shekhar Kapur believes that by 2013, major entertainment will have shifted eastward – film stars will be Orientals, filmed cities will be located in Asia, and the entire industry will have an Oriental flavour. He feels that producers and directors will need to replace Tom Cruises with Indian or Chinese actors. Kapur’s thinking may be a bit fuzzy, but Asia needs to be ready. Cinematic distillation of India’s culture can bring lasting benefits for India and the whole movie industry. And what is that culture? Well, it’s God consciousness, as with Rain’s continual return to Ayodhya and good prevailing everlastingly over evil.