The makers and an actor of Amazon Prime web series "Tandav", who appealed for protection against arrest, failed to get any relief from the Supreme Court today. At least three cases have been lodged in Uttar Pradesh against the makers of the series, alleging inappropriate depiction of UP Police personnel and deities, and adverse portrayal of a character playing the role of prime minister. Similar cases have been lodged in other states including Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Bihar, Delhi and Chandigarh.
The makers have been accused of "hurting religious sentiments", "promoting religious enmity" and "defiling a place of worship".
"The producer, director, and artistes of web series Tandav have committed the crime of spoiling social harmony and unity and hurting Hindu religious sentiments. Tough legal action will be taken," Uttar Pradesh Deputy Chief Minister Keshav Prasad Maurya had tweeted.
The spate of cases, which started after criticism on social media, continued even after the makers issued an apology and followed it up with changes in two scenes "to address concerns".
Subsequently, actor Zeeshan Ayyub, Amazon Creative Head Aparna Purohit and the maker of the series Himanshu Kishan Mehra had moved the top court asking for a freeze on possible arrest.
In their petition, they also said facing prosecution in various states involved harassment and wanted the intervention of the top court to transfer the First Information Reports to Mumbai. The court has agreed to consider the second request of the petitioners, who were being represented by senior Lawyers Fali Nariman, Mukul Rohatgi and Sidharth Luthra.
Fali Nariman pointed out that the makers of the series have already apologised, and the contents had been removed. Mukul Rohatgi argued his clients did nothing wrong and the serial is only a "political satire". In this context, he also quoted the case involving the Republic editor Arnab Goswami, where the court granted him protection from arrest, upholding "personal liberty" of citizens.
Today, as lawyers argued the question of freedom of speech and expression, Justice MR Shah said, "Right to freedom of speech is not absolute "
Actor Ayub's lawyer argued that his client was just an actor working under a contract, and the views expressed were that of the character in the series. "You accepted the contract after reading the script. You cannot hurt religious sentiments," Justice Shah said.
The court refused to allow interim protection and asked the petitioners to approach the High Courts.
Last week, a police team from Uttar Pradesh reached Mumbai to question the makers of the Saif Ali Khan-Dimple Kapadia starrer. The case, filed on a complaint by BJP legislator Ramchandra Kadam, named the cast and crew of Tandav, including director Ali Abbas Zafar and actors Saif Ali Khan and Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub.
Content for web serials are not are not subject to the censor boards. But with leading streaming platforms including Netflix, Amazon, and Disney's Hotstar commissioning local content, there has been a call for regulation, especially from BJP leaders.