Director of Amazon’s ‘Tandav’ Cuts Scenes After Strain From India’s Hindu Nationalists
ARPORA, India – The director of a large budget Amazon web series has bowed to pressure from Hindu nationalists and cut several scenes they deemed objectionable to demonstrate the influence of a powerful political movement struggling to promote Indian society to redesign.
Ali Abbas Zafar, the director of “Tandav,” a gritty political drama, made the changes amid mounting outcry over the show and called for a boycott.
Hindu nationalists, including members of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), have accused Mr. Zafar of insulting Hindu deities and arousing hostility between Hindus and Muslims and between upper and lower castes.
Mr Zafar said on Twitter Tuesday that the show’s cast and crew had decided to “make changes to address the concerns raised,” and several scenes have been cut since then. But on Friday some critics continued to drum up opposition and demand that Mr. Zafar be taken to prison.
Officials at Amazon Prime declined to comment.
The creators of “Tandav” were involved in the profound political and social changes in India that were driven by a Hindu nationalist movement. Under the leadership of Narendra Modi, India’s Prime Minister, who has pushed aside significant opposition, this movement is campaigning for India as a Hindu nation marginalizing other groups, including its significant Muslim minority.
The pressure has spread to culture. In recent years, Hindu nationalists have heavily criticized Bollywood, the central Indian film industry, for depictions that run counter to their beliefs.
The cuts of “Tandav” included a scene in which a university student plays Lord Shiva, a Hindu god, on a stage. In another scene that has been removed, a fictional prime minister speaks mockingly to a member of a lower caste.
But on Friday, Ram Kadam, a BJP lawmaker who previously filed a criminal complaint against the show’s creators, said the changes weren’t enough.
“This is a fight against the kind of people who hurt Hindu religious sentiments,” he said. “You have to go behind bars.”
At least three criminal charges have been filed, including one accusing the demonstration of promoting interfaith hatred, a serious crime in India. Investigators in the state of Uttar Pradesh, led by one of Mr. Modi’s closest allies, have asked Mr. Zafar to speak to them.
However, the real reason for the complaints against “Tandav” could be that the show is holding up a mirror uncomfortably close to Indian society and that some of the problems are being attributed to Mr. Modi’s government. In the opening episode, the show features students protesting and angry farmers reflecting events over the past few months. (Mr. Zafar said the show was a fiction.)
“Tandav” is just one of many recent productions that have aroused the ire of Hindu nationalists. Earlier this week a journalist filed a criminal complaint against the makers of “Mirzapur,” another Amazon web series, and the name of a medium-sized city in northern India. The journalist said the series violated religious and regional sentiments and defamed the city.
Similar pressure has been placed on Netflix in recent months. Several of the platform’s productions have been attacked, including a show in which a Hindu woman kissed a Muslim man, with a Hindu temple in the background, which Hindus denounced as offensive to their beliefs. Hindu nationalists have tried to enter into interfaith marriages and recent laws in several Indian states have targeted interfaith couples.
Gaurav Tiwari, an official in the BJP’s youth wing who has filed a complaint against Netflix officials, said the government must protect the public from what he called vulgar and anti-Hindu content.
“People have been murdered for cartoons in other religions, see what happens to ours,” said Tiwari. “If this continues unabated, what will future generations of Hindus look back on when they see films like this?”
Mr Tiwari called for the strictest forms of punishment from Netflix and Amazon, including a ban from India for a number of years.
Entertainment industry analysts said the restrictive environment has caused many filmmakers to shy away from topics that touch religion or politics.
“This is exactly what this government wants,” said Ankur Pathak, former entertainment editor at Huffington Post India. “It is very clear that this type of bullying from streaming platforms is a broader ideological project by the BJP to eradicate any kind of ideological or political criticism.”
“The Internet is the only free form of medium that exists against the current political regime,” he added. “And that makes her very scared.”
Suhasini Raj reported from Arpora and Jeffrey Gettleman from New Delhi.