India’s online streaming scene was slated for a massive boost with the arrival of Nawazuddin Siddiqui and Saif Ali Khan starrer Netflix original – Sacred Games. Directed by Vikramaditya Motwane and Anurag Kashyap, the series is a bold attempt and was released in nearly 200 countries and close to 130 million subscribers last Friday. As much as Sacred Games is being praised for its undaunted approach by the audience and critics, the political play around it has already started.
Two complaints have been filed by two different Congress workers against the series for ‘insulting’ the former Prime Minister of India – Rajiv Gandhi. Suresh Shyamal Gupta, the President of Youth Indian National Trade Union Congress’ (INTUC) city wing, in his complaint said: “I would like to draw your attention towards a serial called ‘Sacred Games’ which has started on Netflix contains a scene from the fourth episode in which the lead actor Nawazuddin Siddiqui is seen abusing our late Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and calling him Fattu (p**** as translated in the subtitle of the show).”
This was the second time this year when a piece of art was subjected to controversy for showing what the makers believed in – the first being Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s ‘Padmaavat’ which was released after a long-standing controversy over the portrayal of characters. The difference, in this case, is that the characters or events shown in Sacred Games are based on facts and not on a poem or tale written by someone hundreds of years ago.
In any case, Sacred Games has riled many in the Congress party and looks to have stirred up a storm. That, however, is not the sad part. What is worse is that how case after case, works of artistic creation keep falling prey to the whims and fancies of powers that be. The problem with Congress is that whenever someone tries to portray a former party leader, it gets uncomfortable.
It happened in 1975 when ‘Aandhi’ – a political drama starring Sanjeev Kumar and Suchitra Sen, and directed by Gulzar. The film was banned as the protagonist’s character had striking similarities with the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. Interestingly, this ban came in the 24th week after the release – one short of its Silver Jubilee week.
Rebel Congress leader and civil rights activist Shehzad Poonawalla told FinancialExpress.com that even in the past the grand old party has been censoring movies like ‘Aandhi’ and Madhur Bhandarkar’s ‘Indu Sarkar’. “Now, they have a low-level worker file a complaint against Sacred Games. Congress party and the dynasty say that they don’t have anything to do with these complaints but if they are really are the advocates of free speech, they should take action against workers who go against the line and at times, heckle the filmmakers who are making movies on such subjects,” he said.
Interestingly, Rahul Gandhi has been an advocate of free speech on numerous occassions in the past but appears to wield no control when it comes to his own party workers attacking filmmakers. Poonawalla believes that the only threat after 1977 when Indira Gandhi imposed Emergency seems to come when anybody questions the ‘sacred family’ and these are the ‘sacred games’ the Gandhi dynasty keeps playing against freedom of speech.
“I believe those who got several awards during the UPA government would have preferred to return them to Rahul Gandhi after seeing the intolerant approach that his party has demonstrated towards the series. But, sadly that lobby is also very selective when it comes to upholding the freedom of speech,” Poonawalla added.
It comes as a surprise that Congress workers have objected to a strong language against former PM when the grand old party and its members have been attacking the current Prime Minister ever since he has taken the post. Leaving aside the Twitter trolls, Jatan Uikey, Congress MLA from Madhya Pradesh was caught on camera last year abusing Prime Minister Narendra Modi and state Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan, while at a public gathering.
PM Modi has been referred to as ‘Maut Ka Saudagar’ and what not by the grand old party. “They called me snake, scorpion, chaiwala, Lohu-purush, neech, gutter worm, mad dog, impotent, Bhasmasur, monkey, Aurangzeb, mentally retarded, illiterate, Ravan, Yamraj and what not. Is this how you respect the democracy and elected CM or PM?” he had said at a rally in Nikol area of Ahmedabad last year in December.
Filmmaker and Vice President of IMPPA (Indian Motion Pictures Producers’ Association), Ashoke Pandit says that even though Congress has been shouting on top of their voices for the last four years that they are not allowed to speak, it is them who are proving to be intolerant and against the freedom of speech.
“Congress is well-known for taking away your rights and speech. Not now, they burnt the print of ‘Kissa Kursi Ka’. They didn’t allow it, created problems for Aandhi and Indu Sarkar. So, they have a problem and this is something that goes against what they normally propogate,” he told FinancialExpress.com.
This, however, brings us to the bigger question: Where do the filmmakers draw a line? Poonawalla said that if the terminology is used directly to undermine the position of the Prime Minister, then one can have an objection. However, he believes that as long as the words are throwing light at the personality of the person at the office, it is another matter.
Meanwhile, Ashoke Pandit had a more harsh take on the issue. “If I have to express Rajiv Gandhi as ‘f***u’, I have a right to do that. He was a person who had no guts. That’s my way of looking at a political leader. If they can say ‘Maut Ka Saudagar’ to a present Prime Minister than everyone have the right to use whatever language they want to,” he said.
Apart from a strong language against Rajiv Gandhi, the series also depicts historical events of the country like Bofors case, Shah Bano case, Babri Masjid case and communal riots which the petition claims that are depicted ‘incorrectly’.
Congress, on the other hand, is busy defining ‘freedom of speech’. It said that even though the party hasn’t filed a complaint, it believes that the entire statement that has been made is incorrect.
“Congress hasn’t filed the report, an individual who supports the party has. I think anyone who finds something which is offensive in nature and not true, it gives them the right to express protest. Congress has categorically said that freedom of speech is one thing and freedom to spread lies is another thing altogether,” party spokesperson, Priyanka Chaturvedi told FinancialExpress.com.
Referring to the judgement in Shah Bano case, she said that there was an investigation and all charges against Rajiv Gandhi were lifted. Asked whether the party supports the complaint filed, she said that Congress is not in support of anything that is against freedom of speech but cannot have such popular mediums spread misinformation.