SC Denies Plea to Protect ‘Tandav’ Creators From Arrest, Rules “You Cannot Hurt Religious Sentiments” Even in Fiction
The Supreme Court refused to grant the actor and creators of the Amazon Prime web series Tandav protection from arrest in a hearing on 27 January. Multiple first information reports (FIRs) had been filed against them for the show’s alleged offensiveness to Hindu religious sentiments.
The Supreme Court also disagreed with the counsel for Tandav actor Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub, who contended that the statements of the character cannot be attributed to the actor in person. While the counsel for the actor argued that his dialogue in the series had no connection whatsoever to his own individual beliefs, the bench said the actor would not have accepted the role without reading the script and added, “you cannot play the role of a character that hurts the sentiments of a community.”
The petitioners’ lawyers lobbied for interim protection by referring to similar orders granted for cases against media personalities Arnab Goswami and Amish Devgan.
“[The show] is a political satire. If people are so sensitive… then art, cinema, TV, all will be destroyed. [Free speech] is the most zealously guarded right and must be protected, as was held in the Goswami case too,” argued Senior Advocate Mukul Rohatgi, appearing for the head of Amazon India Creative. The bench ruled that a “right to freedom of speech is not absolute.”
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The FIRs name Ali Abbas Zafar, director of the web series; Amazon India Creative head Aparna Purohit; producer Himanshu Mehra; the show’s writer Gaurav Solanki and actor Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub. Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, and Karnataka are among the states where FIRs have been filed against the show. Complaints are also pending in Delhi and Chandigarh.
The fictional web series skewers India’s political scene under the Narendra Modi government and has touched upon events that happened under the current administration—from farmer agitations to student protests to police killings.
Amid the intensifying backlash, Amazon Prime Video had last week caved and agreed to make changes to the series. It had removed the scenes for which objections were made. “We have the utmost respect for the sentiments of the people of our country,” the streaming service said in a statement. The show’s director had said that the team had no intention to hurt or offend the sentiments of any caste, race, community, or religion.
But in the hearing on Wednesday, senior advocate Siddharth Luthra, one of the lawyers appearing for the creators, argued that signing on to an OTT platform to watch a series was unlike public viewing on Doordarshan.“I have to pay and view. I consent to watch it. I want to see a political satire, so I watch it.” The cases against its makers, he argued, “is persecution not prosecution.”
The court has, however, agreed to examine the group’s plea to combine into one the FIRs registered against them across states.