Hanuman’s emergence as a pop-culture icon shows West is waking up to Hinduism

(RNS) — The brand new film “Monkey Man,” which premiered earlier this month on the South by Southwest competition, will attraction to most viewers as a revenge motion thriller and, after all, to followers of British actor Dev Patel, who additionally directed the film in his function directing debut.

However “Monkey Man” can be the most recent and most outstanding introduction to American audiences of Hanuman, the Hindu deity in monkey kind who has already seen cameos within the 2018 blockbuster “Black Panther” and its sequel “Wakanda Eternally,” in addition to Pixar’s Oscar-nominated brief, “Sanjay’s Tremendous Group.”

Patel, a Hindu whose breakthrough position got here in 2008’s “Slumdog Millionaire,” wished his film — which was co-produced by Jordan Peele — to focus on India’s social inequalities. However he admits that he’s fascinated by Hanuman’s superhero mystique.

“What baffled me rising up was this iconography of this super-strong being who might maintain mountains in a single hand and break up his chest open,” Patel advised an viewers after the screening at SXSW. “It jogged my memory of the iconography of Superman. I used to be, like, that is superb, I want the world knew about it.”

Patel stated he was additionally drawn to Hanuman’s qualities of devotion, loyalty, valor and energy embodied in Child, whose story the movie tells. However the film additionally reveals how even Hanuman has moments of weak spot in his journey. “Whenever you go deep into it, he’s form of a man who has misplaced religion in himself and needed to be reminded of who he was,” Patel stated.

Actor Dev Patel in "Monkey Man." (Photo © Universal Studios)

Actor Dev Patel in “Monkey Man.” (Photograph © Common Studios)

Hanuman’s prominence in the film additionally demonstrates the lengthy, typically painful, evolution of Hinduism’s depiction in well-liked media, which has fictionalized and distorted the religion in “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” and, most famously maybe, in “The Simpsons,” whose character of Apu was a stereotype so unvarnished that he turned the topic of a yearslong controversy and a documentary about discrimination towards Hindus and other people of South Asian descent.

People’ dismissal of Hinduism extends again to the media’s earliest protection of the religion on the flip of the 20th century. “Hindoo Fakir,” Thomas Edison’s filming of an Indian magician’s act from 1902, and “Sucker Monkey” (1916), amongst others, depicted Hindus as superstitious, untrustworthy and fraudulent, whereas books comparable to Katherine Mayo’s “Mother India,” revealed in 1927, depicted Hindus as savages who have been unable to rise to the “requirements” of Christian civilization.

When Hindu beliefs have been offered positively, they’re typically de-Hindu-ized. As Philip Goldberg and Jeffery Lengthy have argued, the Star Wars franchise, “The Matrix” and different films have been based mostly on Hindu ideas but left most followers of the movies at nighttime in regards to the connection.

“Monkey Man” represents a rare shift away from this previous century and extra towards American filmmakers and writers presenting Hinduism as unique, unusual and pernicious.

It’s not shocking that it took Hindu creatives to impact the change. Mindy Kaling’s Netflix collection “By no means Have I Ever” and Sanjay Patel’s “Sanjay’s Tremendous Group” have proven the private relationships many Hindu People have with deities, whereas credible Hindu characters have turn out to be extra widespread on tv and within the films. 

A man dressed as Hanuman walks in a religious procession to mark Hanuman Jayanti, a festival celebrating the birth of the monkey-god Hanuman, in Hyderabad, India, April 16, 2022. Hanuman is one of the most popular gods in the crowded pantheon of Hindu deities, and devout Hindus ascribe great strength and valor to him. (AP Photo/Mahesh Kumar A.)

A person dressed as Hanuman walks in a spiritual procession to mark Hanuman Jayanti, a competition celebrating the beginning of the monkey-god Hanuman, in Hyderabad, India, April 16, 2022. Hanuman is without doubt one of the hottest gods within the crowded pantheon of Hindu deities, and religious Hindus ascribe nice energy and valor to him. (AP Photograph/Mahesh Kumar A.)

Within the second-season premiere of the CBS present “Ghosts,” the lead character, Jay (performed by my good friend Utkarsh Ambudkar), explains how, as a Hindu, he believes in reincarnation, a central tenet of Hindu theology. The 2023 supernatural horror movie “It Lives Inside” relies on Hindu concepts, based on the movie’s director, Bishal Dutta, who stated it serves as “a love letter to the group and tradition that raised me.”


Whereas Hindus like me would like to see “Monkey Man” turn out to be a box-office hit, that objective is secondary to how the movie furthers the mainstreaming of Hinduism. Its very existence is one other constructive step as Hinduism and its 2 million-plus adherents in the US proceed to turn out to be extra built-in into America’s social material. If we want him a giant opening weekend, it’s solely as a result of it would permit “Monkey Man” to create extra constructive sentiments about our faith and enhance the cultural self-assuredness of youthful Hindu People.

Murali Balaji. (Photo courtesy University of Pennsylvania)

Murali Balaji. (Photograph courtesy College of Pennsylvania)

(Murali Balaji is a journalist and a lecturer on the Annenberg Faculty for Communication on the College of Pennsylvania. The views expressed on this commentary don’t essentially mirror these of Faith Information Service.)

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