On Monday, Tandav creator-director Ali Abbas Zafar apologised for having unintentionally hurt the sentiments of a certain section of the audience, but not before police complaints had been made against him and his cast. Tandav, a political drama that debuted on Amazon Prime Video recently, is about the power struggle that is unleashed after the death of a Prime Minister.
Watch the trailer of "Tandav" here
The plot of the nine-episode series is ripped from the headlines; the series opens with a farmers' protest and a significant amount of screen time is devoted to a firebrand student leader. There are stand-ins for the Jawaharlal Nehru University and Kanhaiya Kumar.
The contentious scene
At the heart of the controversy is a scene in the first episode of the series. In it, actor Mohd Zeeshan Ayyub plays Lord Shiva in a stage play, and says, "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 Lord Ram's popularity is gaining. Shiva asks whether he should come up with a new display picture.
Bharatiya Janata Party MP Manoj Kotak wrote to Information and Broadcasting minister Prakash Javadekar seeking a ban on the series for allegedly ridiculing Hindu deities. "Different organisations and individuals have complained that Hindu Gods and Goddesses have been ridiculed in Tandav web series. Comments have been passed about them," Kotak said.
MLA Ram Kadam in Maharashtra had tweeted demanding the removal of the part mocking Lord Shiva and an apology from actor Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub. "Tandava will be boycotted until necessary changes are made. #BanTandavNow," he had tweeted. "Just as there is a system of censors for reviewing films and serials, a similar arrangement should be made to review series on the OTT platform. Writing to @PrakashJavdekar ji," he also tweeted in Hindi.
BJP leader Kapil Mishra alleged that Tandav is "anti Dalit and full of communal hatred against Hindus". He also requested people in the same tweet to write to Prakash Javadekar appealing for a ban on the web series.
Former UP chief minister, Mayawati, wrote in a tweet that in the interest of 'peace and harmony' the objectionable scene should be removed from the series.
Police personnel were spotted stationed outside Saif Ali Khan and Kareena Kapoor's home in Mumbai on Sunday.
The I&B ministry sought an explanation from Amazon Prime after the controversy broke out. "The ministry has called executives of the video streaming service and decided to seek an explanation from them over the matter," an official said.
Officials from Amazon Prime Video told news agency PTI that the platform "won't be responding" to media queries on the matter.
An FIR was registered against Amazon India original content head Aparna Purohit, creator Ali, producer Himanshu Krishna Mehra, writer Gaurav Solanki and others at the Hazratganj police station of Lucknow in Uttar Pradesh, Lucknow deputy commissioner of police (Central) Somen Barma said.
"Our sincere apologies," Ali wrote in a social media post on Monday, on behalf of the cast and crew. "We have been closely monitoring viewer reactions to the web series Tandav and today during a discussion, the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting have informed us regarding a large number of grievances and petitions received on various facets of the web series with serious concerns and apprehensions regarding its content hurting the sentiments of the people," the statement read.
It continued, "The web series Tandav is a work of fiction and any resemblance to acts and persons and events is purely coincidental. The cast and crew did not have any intention to offend the sentiments of any individual, caste, community, race, religion or religious beliefs or insult or outrage any institution, political party or person, living or dead. The cast and crew of Tandav take cognizance of the concerns expressed by the people and unconditionally apologize if it has unintentionally hurt anybody's sentiments."
The controversy comes at a time when the censorship of streaming platforms is being debated. Outrage was previously expressed upon the release of streaming releases Sacred Games and Gunjan Saxena: The Kargil Girl.
In November, the Union government brought streaming video services such as Netflix, Amazon Prime and Hotstar, and news websites under the ambit of the Information & Broadcasting ministry for regulation, issuing a notification that will now allow the latter to draft rules that could have a far-reaching impact on popular channels of digital content.
Ali confirmed in an interview to Mid-Day that he has completed writing the second season of the show, despite no official confirmation by Amazon. "During the lockdown, I sat in my Dehradun home for five months and kept writing. We have already developed the script for the second season, and hopefully, it will go on floors soon," he said.