‘Hindu Convert’ Julia Shuts Out Worshippers

DELHI ~ Bali-bound actress Julia Roberts, in India to shoot parts of her new movie Eat, Pray, Love, has angered villagers near the location shoot who were barred from their temple by police and private security guards hired by the film company.

Said turned-away worshi-pper Shakuntala Devi: “It’s Navratras, the holiest time of the year, and we must not be stopped from visiting our own temple. Only those who could manage to sneak in did so, but most of us were all sent back.”

Another villager threatened to break in. “I am going to barge in. Let’s see who stops me. What is it that they are shooting that we cannot even enter our own temple?” he said.

But a senior police officer said no one would be allowed to breach his security cordon, in place at the location shoot 50km from Delhi.

“There are more than 100 policemen outside the Ashram Hari Mandir and an almost equal number inside the premises, both uniformed and in civilian disguise. Nobody can breach this cover and no outsider is allowed to enter, no matter whosoever he or she is. We have strict instructions,” he said.

Roberts is due in Bali next month for the final part of the film story of the book of self-discovery by author Elizabeth Gilbert.

The scale of Roberts’s security detail and her intrusion into a sacred Hindu ritual has caused wider ill-feeling towards the star of Notting Hill and Pretty Woman. Until her arrival in India, Roberts had been considered one of the West’s most “Hindu-friendly” celebrities.

She was publicly praised when she sported a bindi spot on her forehead during a visit to the Taj Mahal earlier this year.

And she and her husband, cameraman Daniel Moder, have given their three children the names of Hindu gods: Laxmi and Ganesh for four-year-old twins Hazel and Phinnaeus (Finn), and Krishna Balram for Henry, 2.

The names were given to the Hollywood superstar’s three children by Swami Daram Dev of Ashram Hari Mandir.

“Julia came to seek my blessings and I told her to learn good things about Indian culture. I said that your children should have new names,” he said.

Roberts launched the Indian location filming of Eat, Pray, Love with a hawan fire sacrifice and cooked dal-roti (bread) for a community lunch at the ashram.

She also took part in religious chanting and offered prayers, along with her children, and told religious leaders, “India is really amazing.”

A leading American Hindu devotee, known as Zed, publicly applauded her efforts and her devotion to Hinduism. In a statement he said: “She’s actively participating in it with her three children, and showing keen interest.

“The people of India will be anxious to see how perfectly Roberts does her job of cleaning the ashram as a part of her devotional duty, recites the 182-verse Sanskrit chant, and masters meditation in the film.”

Roberts’s latest film, Duplicity, released last March, has not been a box office success, prompting some Hollywood critics to ask whether she is still a leading lady.

Eat, Pray, Love is the autobiographical account of Elizabeth Gilbert’s search to “find herself” on an odyssey that took her from Italy to India and Bali. Her book became a bestseller.

Roberts is reportedly planning to film The Friday Night Knitting Club as her next project.

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