Bharatiya Janata Party leader Ram Kadam looks on as his supporters blacken the faces of actors on the poster of Amazon Prime Video's web series Tandav during a protest in Mumbai on Monday.(ANI)
Bharatiya Janata Party leader Ram Kadam looks on as his supporters blacken the faces of actors on the poster of Amazon Prime Video's web series Tandav during a protest in Mumbai on Monday.(ANI)

Tandav over Tandav: About Hinduphobia, hurt sentiments, FIRs and OTT censorship

The controversy over Tandav once again raises the age-old debate about freedom of expression versus moral policing and censorship.
Reported by Aditi Prasad | Edited by Meenakshi Ray, New Delhi
PUBLISHED ON JAN 18, 2021 05:12 PM IST

For the average OTT buff, the Amazon Prime Video political drama starring Saif Ali Khan, Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub and Dimple Kapadia is pacy enough for a weekend binge. For cinema connoisseurs and critics, the series is at best mediocre and clichéd and at worst a poorly researched, hammy and forgettable show. And then there are people like the Bharatiya Janata Party's (BJP's) Kapil Mishra who have sent a legal notice to the makers of Tandav for allegedly hurting the sentiments of Hindus and Dalits and are demanding a ban on the web series.


Tandav is not just limited to Kapil Mishra though. An FIR naming Amazon Prime’s India head of original content Aparna Purohit, apart from the show’s director Ali Abbas Zafar, producer Himanshu Krishna Mehra, and others have also been filed in Uttar Pradesh for hurting religious sentiments. BJP leader Ram Kadam too claims to have filed a complaint at Mumbai's Ghatkopar police station against Tandav. The ministry of information and broadcasting has now purportedly summoned Amazon Prime video officials over the swiftly escalating tandav.

Of course, the melee is never complete without Twitterati throwing in its lot with one side or the other. The social media platform has been flooded with messages citing similar sentiments of Hinduphobic content, anti-Hindu propaganda, disrespecting Dalits and more.

Also read | Tandav row: Govt summons Amazon Prime executives

At the heart of all the displeasure is one particular scene in the first episode of the series where actor Zeeshan Ayyub has played a stage performer appearing as Lord Shiva and is heard saying, "Azaadi, what the...?" In the same scene, the narrator on stage tells Lord Shiva that he needs to do something to improve his popularity on social media as opposed to Lord Ram. On this, Zeeshan Ayub asks whether he should come up with a new display picture. Naysayers are calling this an attempt to 'mock' and 'target' the Hindu gods.

Also read | Police personnel seen stationed outside Saif's home amid Tandav row

The controversy once again raises the age-old debate about freedom of expression versus moral policing and censorship. Frankly, without the social media chatter, the controversial Lord Shiva scene could have been a blink-and-you-miss-it moment in the web series. After all, as Hindus, we are only too used to seeing our deities dramatised and even depicted in a humorous light (Ramlila, anyone?). In fact, for decades, there seemed nothing wrong in showing our gods doing funny stuff. Hindu gods and goddesses were humanised, tolerant, friendly and approachable for that reason alone.

Not anymore. Because of late, the yardstick has become Islam or Christianity. The common refrain is that this web series would have not dared to depict the Prophet in a similar vein. Is the sentiment factually correct? Yes. But is applying the Islam yardstick on Hinduism correct? Probably not, because unlike an organised religion, Hinduism is more a way of life, kept alive through generations by word-of-mouth, mythical stories and often humorous anecdotes.

Also read | 'Tandav is a work of fiction, it's a piece of entertainment first': Sunil Grover

But the bigger fear due to repeated controversies involving OTT platforms revolves around possible censorship of streaming content and what form it will take. In November last year, a gazette notification brought digital audio-visual content on these platforms under the ambit of the information and broadcasting ministry. There are reports that the ministry could opt for self-regulation as the guiding principle. But the fine print is still a secret.

Speaking at the Hindustan Times Leadership Summit 2020, Star & Disney India chairman Uday Shankar said that what mattered was the form and substance of the regulatory lens. “Do we want to be over-prescriptive or do we want to let creativity and imagination to have a role?" he had asked.

Shankar added that Indian consumers are far more mature than most regulators think and do not need filters applied to everything they watch.

Because watching a political drama like Tandav (however hackneyed) is perhaps a much meatier option than the banal and bad 1990s throwback Coolie No 1 streaming on these platforms.

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