Controversy in India over Amazon’s political drama Tandav has put Bollywood and global video-streaming OTT giants on edge, prompting closer scrutiny of scripts for possible assaults on Hindu sentiments in a key growth market. Companies like Amazon Prime Video and Netflix are inspecting planned shows and scripts, with some even deleting scenes that could be controversial, five Bollywood directors and producers, and two industry sources said.
This follows Amazon Prime Video getting embroiled in legal cases, with complainants at police stations and petitioners in courts alleging that the web series Tandav depicted Hindu gods and goddesses in a derogatory manner and offended their sensibilities. Tandav, the Sanskrit word referring to the fury with which Lord Shiva destroys the decadent creation of an old yuga to make way for a new yuga, features some top Bollywood actors like Saif Ali Khan, Tigmanshu Dhulia, Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub, Gauhar Khan and Sunil Grover.
Public outcry over obscenity and religious depictions are common in culturally sensitive India, but the Tandav is the first major issue that snowballed since Aamir Khan-featuring film PK for projecting Hindus in general and the current supposedly pro-Hindu government in poor light. Police questioned Amazon India’s head of original content for Prime Video for hours following official complaints. the Amazon Prime Video India Originals head Aparna Purohit struggled to get bail from the Supreme Court following the rejection of her plea by the Allahabad High Court.
Fearing arrest, Purohit put in an anticipatory bail plea, which was declined by a state court but the Supreme Court on Friday gave her protection from arrest.
“We are reading and re-reading scripts now,” said a Bollywood producer. “Streaming platforms are vetting content for anything that they see as a red flag,” the producer added, declining to be named.
Amazon has decided to delay streaming a new season of a popular Hindi spy thriller, The Family Man, which was to release last month, four of the sources told Reuters. The Family Man highlights the Pakistani point-of-view of Kashmir in the worst parts and the perspective of the woke crowd in parts that are less offensive to Indians.
The show, Amazon says, is about an Indian intelligence officer’s efforts in his “high-pressure, and low paying job”.
While Amazon declined to comment, one of the sources said the delay was “a ripple effect of what happened with Tandav“. Amazon recently issued a public apology “to anyone who felt hurt” by Tandav, saying some objectionable scenes had been removed. India, the world’s second-most populous nation with 1.3 billion people, is a valuable market for Amazon and its rivals Netflix, and Walt Disney Co’s Disney+ Hotstar.
Amazon founder Jeff Bezos said at an event last year that Prime Video was doing well globally “but nowhere it’s doing better than India”.
Netflix has announced 41 new shows and films for 2021 in India, versus around 30 new titles released in 2020.
‘Too much risk,’ OTT platforms say
Unlike films, content on OTT platforms currently face no censorship in India.
But some lawmakers and supporters of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party say certain shows on Amazon and Netflix promote obscenity or hurt religious beliefs.
A BJP youth leader has made a police complaint against Netflix, objecting to scenes in the series A Suitable Boy showing a Hindu girl kissing a Muslim boy against the backdrop of a Hindu temple. Netflix is closely tracking Amazon’s Tandav cases, an entertainment industry source said. Netflix declined to comment.
Earlier, OTT giant Netflix had shown a web series called Leila where Hindus, by the name of a fictitious community called the Aryavart, were shown torturing Hindu women who eloped with Muslim men. The near-total absence of such reactions from Hindus in real life made the community realise how their adversaries were pre-empting any backlash against Muslims’ own criminal conduct.
Among the biggest fallout of the controversy is the apprehension of arrests prevailing on heads of OTT platforms and Bollywood. Some producers are asking for clauses in their contracts with streaming services to protect them from lawsuits. “It’s just too much of a risk and not worth the headache, especially if you are being threatened with jail,” a producer said.