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September 15, 1999
Xena Producer Defends Ally Sunil Aghi
A P Kamath
The producer of The Way, the controversial episode of the Xena television series that was aired in many American states this month despite vigorous protest by Hindu groups is unrepentant.
He says the edited version omitted certain scenes such as the beheading of Hanuman. But he insists that by fictionalizing the Hindu deities, he has not insulted or degraded Hinduism. On the other hand, Rob Tapert says such publications as Hinduism Today have praised the episode.
Tapert is upset that anti-Way groups attacked businessman and community leader Sunil Aghi for endorsing the edited episode and appearing at its end to plead for understanding Hinduism.
The protesters, including Tusta Krishnadas of the World Vaishnava Association, have said Aghi has no business to speak about Hinduism, that he is neither an authority on the religion nor a religious leader.
His group has also issued press statements that Aghi was flown to New Zealand and met with the stars of The Way.
Aghi says he spent a single day in New Zealand, but the visit was not a luxury, he says. His mind was all the time in California worrying about his insurance business and other concomitant issues.
'Aghi got involved because he believed it was the right thing to do,' Tapert wrote in a letter to Krishnadas.
'You cast aspersions on Mr Aghi's character by stating that Universal Studios wined and dined Sunil Aghi in New Zealand, paying for a junket for him to hobnob and get his photograph taken with Lucy Lawless (who plays Xena) and other stars of Xena' the letter continued.
Tapert said neither his company nor Aghi tried to hide the facts. 'We did, in fact, pay for Aghi to travel to New Zealand -- as we do with everyone who appears on the show -- for him to participate in the spot that airs at the end of the episode.'
After a 12-hour flight, Aghi spent 24 hours in New Zealand, 'during which he slept, cut the spot and left for the airport.'
'He was neither "wined" nor "dined," ' Tapert asserted. 'In fact, he paid for his own meals.' Krishnadas has not responded to the letter.
Meanwhile, Aghi said people like Krishnadas were trying to hog the limelight. Hinduism does not have a rigid hierarchy as in many other religions, he said, adding that a handful of men cannot dictate who can speak for Hinduism.
Others who were "enraged" at Aghi include Krishnadas's ally, Jitendra Goyle, governing council member of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad. "It is an outrage that Mr Aghi is posing as an expert in Hinduism and qualified to enlighten people of other religions about Hinduism," Goyle says.
"I would be the last person to call myself an expert on Hinduism," Aghi says. "But I am a Hindu, and I care for my religion. I was trying to defuse the ugly situation and succeeded in getting the producers delete some scenes which unwittingly showed Hinduism not in the best light."
"I thought the newly edited version would satisfy the likes of Krishnadas, and save the community from being perceived as fundamentalists like the men and women who were asking for Salman Rushdie's blood."
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