Sins renews debate over religion vs freedom of expression

The battle is one between freedom of speech and respect for beliefs.

Some of the leading figures have jumped to the defence of the film Sins -- which is facing Christian protests because it depicts a Catholic priest's sexual relationship with a woman half his age -- and say controversial ideas are part of the artistes' right to free expression.

But others say artistes are also required to understand the psyche of their audiences.

Christian organisations have objected to Sins' release scheduled for tomorrow as they held street protests in Mumbai and burnt its director Vinod Pande in effigy.

They said the movie had hurt their feelings because celibacy is a key factor for a Catholic priest.

Print advertisements with the tag line Crimes of Passion show a young woman lying on the lap of a priest who has his arms around her.

A silver chain and a crucifix wrapped around his hand grazes her bare shoulder, igniting Christian anger over the use of the cross in the ads.

Christian groups have asked director Vinod Pande to look again at the story line but the filmmaker is defending the movie on grounds that ''an artiste should have a chance to say his piece''.

''Indian cinema lags behind Hollywood mainly because freedom of expression is too much curtailed here on grounds of religion and culture,'' remarked veteran film critic Jyothi Venkatesh.

Artistes, he said, create characters and stories to entertain and generate debate among their audiences.

''They expect the audiences to see characters and analyse them critically and it should be left to the audiences to make comments and not the so-called religious leaders who spring up with street protests over a piece before the public sees it for itself,'' Mr Venkatesh said.

He cited Raja Bundela's Pratha that did not do well because of a ''shock outdated response'' from the audience to the movie's depiction of a Hindu priest.

''If you want to rub shoulders with Hollywood, you have to experiment with bold ideas,'' Mr Venkatesh said.