Julia Roberts lands in India to film “Eat, Pray, Love” : Hindus concerned

After New York and Italy, Oscar winner Julia Roberts (Pretty Woman) reportedly landed Thursday in Delhi (India) with cast and crew to shoot the next leg of “Eat, Pray, Love”.

Hindus, although welcoming Roberts and others accompanying her to India, are concerned about how their traditions will be depicted in the film. Acclaimed Hindu statesman Rajan Zed, in a statement in Nevada (USA) today, urged its filmmakers to show sacred ashram (hermitage) and Hinduism concepts-beliefs-objects in an authentic manner in order to avoid misrepresenting the already misunderstood religion, which is oldest and third largest in the world.

Film, being a powerful medium, misrepresentation would not be fair to Hindus and Hinduism, Zed, who is president of Universal Society of Hinduism, added.

Roberts’ twins Hazel and Phinnaeus are accompanying her, and the troupe, which checked into a five star hotel on Thursday evening, will stay till the first week of October, reports suggest. Shooting, though being kept secret, will reportedly start soon at an ashram near Gurgaon on the Delhi-Jaipur National Highway 8 very close to Delhi’s Indira Gandhi International Airport, while some scenes will be filmed at Pataudi Palace, about 60 kilometers from Delhi. Some of the Indian crew of “Slumdog Millionaire” (Danny Boyle) will also be helping in the India part of the production.

People of India will be anxious to see how perfectly Roberts does her job of cleaning ashram floors as a part of her devotional duty, trying to recite 182-verse Sanskrit chant, and going through grueling hours of meditation while being feasted on by mosquitoes.

Hindu statesman Rajan Zed further said that if the filmmaker needed any help concerning depiction of Hinduism or related issues, he or other Hindu scholars would be glad to assist.

Oscar nominated Richard Jenkins (The Visitor) and Oscar nominated Viola Davis (Doubt) will also reportedly participate in India shooting. Rest of the cast includes Oscar winner Javier Bardem (No Country for Old Men), Paris Film Festival award winner Billy Crudup (Almost Famous), Golden Globe winner James Franco (Pineapple Express), Luca Argentero (Lezioni di cioccolato), etc. Based on Pushcart Prize winner Elizabeth Gilbert’s spirituality/travel memoir “Eat, Pray, Love”, directed by Emmy nominated Ryan Murphy (Nip/Tuck) and produced by Columbia Pictures, Brad Pitt’s (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button) Plan B Entertainment and Roberts’ Red Om Films, it is aimed at a release in 2011.

Roberts will reportedly not shoot in the original ashram where Gilbert stayed for about four months few years back in India, trying to find her spirituality. Although Gilbert did not disclose the name of the guru or the ashram where she stayed in her book, but it is widely guessed that she stayed at Gurudev Siddha Peeth at Ganeshpuri (Thane district) in Maharashtra and her guru was Gurumayi Chidvilasananda, a Siddha guru and follower of Swami Muktananda (who passed away in 1982). The goal of the Siddha Yoga path which this ashram follows is: “Self-realization -- the unceasing experience of unity with God”. Swami Muktananda is quoted as: “Honor your Self, Worship your Self, Meditate on your self, God dwells within you as you.” The Siddha Yoga teachings spring from Kashmir Shaivism, Vedanta, and from the experience of Siddha masters.

Answering “Frequently Asked Questions” on her website, Gilbert says: “The Ashram where I studied is too small these days to accept new applicants…”. She defines God as: “The perfection that absorbs”. One of the great teachings Gilbert learned in India: “stillness”.

Gilbert’s bestseller memoir is about her self-discovery and soul-searching after her nasty divorce, exploring through India, Italy, and Indonesia, a journey which is pleasurable as well as enlightening. It was number one on New York Times Paperback Nonfiction List for over a year and its over five million copies were reportedly now in print. She has also authored a short story collection “Pilgrims”. “Eat, Love, Pray” T-shirts, baseball caps, throw pillows, and mugs are already on sale. A critic has defined it as “the worst in Western fetishization of Eastern thought and culture”.

Gilbert, who currently lives in New Jersey, was born in Waterbury (Connecticut) in 1969 and grew up on a tree farm in Litchfield (Connecticut), where the family reportedly had no neighbors, no TV and not even a record player.  According to reports, Gilbert’s former husband is also writing his own memoir of world travel titled as “Displaced”.

Welcoming Roberts to India, Rajan Zed urged her to explore Hinduism further and visit some Hindu temples. Deeper study of Hinduism would complement her interest in yoga and other things Indian, Zed added.

Current trip is described as business-cum-pleasure visit for Roberts. In January last, she sported a “bindi” (vermillion mark on forehead) during her trip to India when she also visited Taj Mahal with husband Danny Moder. She has a production company called “Red Om Films”, and “Om” in Hinduism is the mystical syllable containing the universe.

Forty-one years old Julia Fiona Roberts, one of the most successful Hollywood actresses besides a producer and fashion model, has won best actress Oscar for “Erin Brockovich” and earned Oscar nominations for “Pretty Woman” and “Steel Magnolias”.

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