Seldom will you come across a title so apt – Tandav. It is almost as if what we saw premiering on Amazon Prime Video on January 15 was but a trailer, which admittedly wasn’t worth outraging over. But more on that later. For the actual show has only just begun. ‘Murky world of politics’ is what Ali Abbas Zafar promised us, and that’s exactly what it is getting – murky.
Much like the on-screen narrative, the ruling party takes the centre stage off it too. It all started after some woke up to the realisation that perhaps certain scenes of Tandav – two, in particular – allegedly hurt Hindu and Dalit sentiments. The first scene in question has Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub’s character perform a play on stage. He is dressed in a semi-formal way, with his face painted with blue stripes, a modern rendition of Shiva. With him is another student portraying the role of Narad Muni. In a political satire of sorts, Narad Muni asks Shiva to think about his ‘followership’ as he might be loosing out to Ram, and suggests he should perhaps tweet something controversial to fix that. The conversation then steers towards azaadi, with Shiva clarifying “inhe desh se azaadi nahi, desh mein rehte huye azaadi chahiye”.
The second scene in question was an exchange between the characters of Annup Soni, a Dalit neta on the show, and Sandhya Mridul, with the latter, in a moment of anger, referring to his caste and how his behaviour is a product of that.
There were several other points of contention – the portrayal of the Prime Minister of India, being one of them. Played by Tigmangshu Dhulia, the series shows the PM sipping on wine in one scene and also references his illicit relationship with another party karyakarta, Anuradha Kishore, played by Dimple Kapadia.
Result? A slew of FIRs filed in various parts of the country, starting with the one in Lucknow. At the time of writing this piece, another one was filed in Greater Noida, Uttar Pradesh as well and one in Patiala House Court, while the Lucknow Police promised to reach Mumbai to take the investigation forward. From BJP MP Manoj Kotak to BJP MP Nand Kishor Gurjar, several letters have been written to I&B minister Prakash Javadekar seeking a ban on the series.
Meanwhile, the BJP supporters in Mumbai, led by Ram Kadam, have held protests in BKC, registered a complaint against Amazon Prime Video and Tandav at Mumbai’s BKC Police Station, and even had a long discussion at the Amazon office. They even deleted the Amazon app from their phones, a customary show of outrage, as we’ve learned in the recent past.
Now, to say that outrage is slowly becoming our national sport and that we seem to have a problem with just about any show, wouldn’t be wrong. In a country where public display of affection in the slightest way is scoffed upon, the Romeo squads are now turning their gaze on to OTT content. In fact, the year 2020 ended with a call to #BanNetflix after the country outraged over a kissing scene in the streaming platform’s web series A Suitable Boy. An FIR was filed in Madhya Pradesh under Section 295A of the Indian Penal Code against two senior executives of Netflix for the same. But it wasn’t only a kissing scene that caused such unchill with Netflix, it was because the series had allegedly hurt the religious sentiments of a community by showing its lead character Lata, a Hindu girl, kissing her Muslim boyfriend against the backdrop of a temple. Netflix and Tanishq would need much chai pe charcha over this one.
A few months before that, Amazon found itself in another pickle when Paatal Lok was pulled up for alleged racial slurs. Mirzapur was also not spared for allegedly depicting Mirzapur and the state of Uttar Pradesh in a bad light. Netflix can still one-up Amazon on this with their now-famous kada scene that allegedly hurt Sikh sentiments in Sacred Games 2. Anurag Kashyap was attacked under Section 295-A (damaging sacred object), 153, 153-A (attack on religion), 504 (provocation to break peace) and 505 (spreading rumours) IPC and Information Technology Act. Or shows like Ghoul and Leila before that for their alleged Hinduphobic content.
Amazon is currently prepping for The Family Man Season 2, but the first season of the Manoj Bajpayee show also ruffled feathers for a scene where a woman affiliated to the National Investigating Agency (NIA) is seen telling her male colleague how Kashmiris were being oppressed by the Indian state following the shutdown of phones and internet. She also speaks of how the State uses measures like the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA).
So what is at the heart of it? Intolerance, of course. But more so a demand for a board, like the Central Board Of Film Certification (CBFC), that would regulate and certify content before its release. For the existing laws to manage objectionable content, especially under Section 67 of the Information Technology Act and the Indian Penal Code, are not adequate, and self-censorship isn’t cutting it either.
Tandav makers have issued an apology to the tandav causers, though the likes of Ram Kadam have retorted that a sorry isn’t enough. He wants Saif Ali Khan to take a stand, and Amazon to stop streaming the show.
In all this, a very small section of the audience is actually concentrating on the bigger issue here – that Tandav is a substandard, lazy and intentionally shallow show, to begin with. Perhaps that should have been the reason for outrage. If anything, Indian politicians should have taken offence to how childish they have been made to look. And the great Opposition in Indian politics should have taken offence to how they have been left out of the narrative completely. But then, is madness even madness if there was method to it?