Christopher Nolan’s latest film Oppenheimer has been raking in the big bucks at the box office as well as getting acclaim from around the world. Back in India, however, a couple of scenes in the film have caused a minor controversy, both centred around the use of the Hindu holy scripture Bhagavad Gita in the film. Now, the biographer of Robert J Oppenheimer himself has addressed these issues.
Oppenheimer is the story of the nuclear physicist J Robert Oppenheimer, widely regarded as the Father of the Atomic Bomb. In his interviews post the Trinity Test, Oppenheimer had said that when he first saw the explosion, he was reminded of a verse from the Gita. “If the radiance of a thousand suns were to burst into the sky, that would be like the splendor of the Mighty One… I am become death, the destroyer of worlds,” the American physcist had famously said.
However, many Indian scholars have disputed this interpretation. Kai Bird, who co-authored Oppenheimer’s biography, spoke to Hindustan Times about the dispute and said, “And that famous line that he used to describe what he thought when he saw the Trinity explosion — ‘I am death, destroyer of the world’ — some Sanskrit scholars, as I understand it, think that the more accurate translation would be ‘I am Time, destroyer of worlds’. He is a quantum physicist, so he is trying to understand time and space, and these are issues that the Gita sort of addresses on some level.”
Earlier, author and mythologist Devdutt Pattnaik had said, “I did some research on Oppenheimer, and I had never come across this line. Someone said it was chapter 11, verse 32, which really says ‘kaal-asmi’, which means ‘I am time, destroyer of the world’. So, his translation itself is flawed. It is not ‘I am death’. It is time, time is the destroyer of the world.”
Another controversy around the Gita in Oppenheimer is regarding a sex scene involving the lead. In Oppenheimer, the titular physicist and his lover Jean Tatlock (played by Cillian Murphy and Florence Pugh respectively) are getting intimate when she notices the Bhagavad Gita on his bookshelf, in original Sanskrit. She asks him to read the lines from the book as they get intimate again. The use of a holy book in the scene has angered some sections of the internet, who feel this is disrespectful towards the religion.
Regardless of the controversies, Oppenheimer has opened to largely positive reviews from around the world. Most critics have praised the storytelling, scale, and the performances, particularly those from Murphy, Emily Blunt, and Robert Downey Jr.