Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Amazon executive faces charges as Hindu nationalists rage over miniseries

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India’s creators of Amazon Prime miniseries and a senior company official face criminal charges after Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ruling party Bharatiya Janata found the drama offensive to the country’s Hindu majority .

Ali Abbas Zafar, director of the nine-part miniseries Tandav, apologized publicly and agreed to re-edit several episodes of the program after get dressed this week by the Indian Ministry of Information and Broadcasting.

The political drama – about a ruthless politician and an idealistic college student – contains a scene in which students in a play portray Hindu deities making contemptuous allusions to Indian politics. BJP supporters say the scene, which Amazon has agreed to cut, is a deep affront to Hindus.

But the apologies and revisions failed to appease authorities in Uttar Pradesh, India’s largest state ruled by controversial Hindu cleric Yogi Adityanath, a close ally of Mr. Modi.

Keshav Prasad Maurya, Uttar Pradesh’s deputy chief minister, promised on Twitter that authorities would take “strict legal action” against the filmmakers for hurting Hindu sentiments and disrupting social harmony.

State police traveled to Mumbai, the hub of the Indian film industry, to question Mr Zafar, screenwriter Gaurav Solanki and Aparna Purohit, head of Indian originals at Amazon Prime Video India. The company launched streaming services in the country four years ago.

Fearing arrest, the filmmakers and Ms Purohit obtained early bail from Mumbai’s High Court on Wednesday.

Amazon India declined to comment.

Tandav features Bollywood celebrity Saif Ali Khan as a ruthless politician and is full of barely disguised references to events that have troubled India in recent years.

‘Tandav’ stars Bollywood actor Saif Ali Khan as a ruthless politician © Amazon Prime Video

Manoj Kotak, a BJP parliamentarian, accused the filmmakers of “deliberately mocking Hindu gods and disrespecting[ing] Hindu sentiments ”, and demanded that the show be banned.

The fury over the miniseries reflects growing pressure on India’s creative industries, as Hindu nationalist supporters of the BJP step up their efforts to control the entertainment industry and purge elements they find unpleasant.

“This is just one more event in the entire hatch closure when it comes to public expression,” said Shubhra Gupta, author of 50 movies that changed Bollywood. “What can you say? Can you say what you think? Can you be seen as different?”

Amazon and its streaming rivals Netflix and Disney / Hotstar are all bet big on India, which they see as a market fueled by a growing, digital-savvy, entertainment-hungry middle class.

Companies are also investing heavily in the production of local language content, engaging many top Bollywood stars and filmmakers to their cause.

But navigating the sensibilities of emboldened right-wing Hindus has proven to be a challenge. Madhya Pradesh state police filed a criminal complaint in November against Netflix executives for a scene from the miniseries A decent boy which depicted an interfaith couple kissing outside a ruined temple.

The filmmakers aren’t the only creatives examined.

Munawar Faruqui, a prominent Muslim comedian, was arrested on January 1 before a performance in Indore after right-wing Hindu activists complained that he was likely to insult Hindu gods on his show. Mr Faruqui has been denied bail twice in the BJP-run state.

Authorities in Uttar Pradesh are also asking for his custody so they can prosecute him for jokes allegedly made during a performance in the state last year.

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