Hollywood Buddha generates heat in Nepal

After Thailand and Sri Lanka, a controversial Hollywood film featuring a Buddha statue has started generating protests in Nepal, the birthplace of the Buddha.

The "Hollywood Buddha", a film directed and produced by Philippe Caland who also plays the lead, created a furore among Buddhists before its release in theatres Friday because of a promotional poster.

The poster, put up at the web site of the film, showed a man sitting on a Buddha statue.

The poster generated protest emails from Buddhists worldwide with demonstrations in Thailand and Sri Lanka, two Buddhist countries.

Sri Lanka's Cultural Affairs Minister Vijitha Herath was quoted as saying he would complain to the US Embassy in Colombo about the film since it had scenes that were "harmful" to Buddhism and insulted the religion.

Subsequently, representatives of Sri Lankan Buddhist organisations were invited to a special screening of the film at Beverly Hills in California and they gave the verdict that it was not disrespectful to Buddhism.

The offending poster was removed and is to be replaced with a new one at the film's premiere.

In Nepal, where Buddhism has the most followers after Hinduism, the state religion, people are protesting.

Readers have been writing to dailies complaining about the film. One reader, Pravesh Lamichhane, wrote to the Himalayan Times that he was "shocked" to hear that the film would be released soon in Nepal.

"The movie has shown that the theory of Buddhism that we follow now is wrong," he wrote. "The hero brings a Buddha's idol home and curses the wisdom of Buddha. Even the movie has become controversial as it shows the hero sitting on Buddha's head. Nepalese do not have the capacity to ban this movie worldwide but the government can at least ban the movie here in Nepal."

On Wednesday, about six organisations held a demonstration on the streets in Butwal in southern Nepal, protesting against the film, the private radio channel Himalayan Broadcasting Corp reported Thursday.

The Buddha, who was born at Lumbini in southern Nepal, is a sensitive subject in the Himalayan kingdom.