Aparna Purohit, the India head of Amazon Prime Video, was granted interim protection from arrest on Friday in the ongoing case against the Hindi web series Tandav, Live Law reported.
Several cases have been filed against the web series in Uttar Pradesh and Delhi alleging the show of hurting religious sentiments, insulting Hindu gods and goddesses, inciting communal violence, and showcasing a wrong image of the Uttar Pradesh Police.
Purohit has been booked under Sections 66 (computer-related offences), 66F (cyber terrorism) and 67 (transmitting obscene material) IT Act, 2008, 153-A (promoting enmity between different groups), 295 (defiling place of worship with intent to insult the religion), 505(1)(b) (public mischief), 505(2) (statements promoting hatred between classes), 469 (forgery for purpose of harming reputation) of the Indian Penal Code.
Purohit had filed an anticipatory bail from the case against her. On February 25, she was denied anticipatory bail by the Allahabad High Court.
The court referred to the recently bail of comedian Munawar Faruqui, who was arrested before even cracking jokes on Hindu gods, and remarked that “such people make the revered figures of the religion of majority community source of earning money in most brazen manner taking benefit of the liberal and tolerant tradition of the country”.
“Western filmmakers have refrained from ridiculing Lord Jesus or the Prophet but the Hindi filmmakers have done this repeatedly and still doing this most unabashedly with the Hindu Gods and Goddesses,” the court had said.
During the Supreme Court hearing on Thursday, the apex court observed: “We are of the view that some screening of OTT content should take place. In fact, some platforms even show pornography.”
Purohit’s representative advocate Mukul Rohatgi submitted in the court that Purohit was just an employee at the streaming platform, who has been accused along with the producer and the actor of the series whereas the company was not accused.
“These are all publicity seekers who have been filing cases all over India. Look at the FIR, look at what’s happening. If you want to watch this web series, you have to pay to see this,” Rohatgi said.
The court pointed out that “traditional film viewing has become obsolete. People watching cinema on internet has become common,” raising concern on whether “these should be screened?”
To which senior advocate Sidharth Luthra said that new rules and guidelines have been issued by the Centre to regulate the content on OTT platforms and a board would also be set up for the same. The court asked the Solicitor General to submit and circulate the latest Information Technology Rules, 2021.
On Friday, after going through the new rules regulating online streaming, the court observed that the “new OTT rules lack teeth” and that there are “no provision for prosecution or fine” as they “just guidelines”.
The other issue in the case observed by the court was about the platform showing “pornography” to which Rohatgi submitted that Amazon Prime Video was not showing any “pornography” and that it had many good films and series while informing the court that the controversial scenes were already deleted from Tandav.
The Solicitor General countered saying “by pornography, they don’t mean it in the actual sense.”
Rohatgi also submitted that Allahabad High Court denied bail to Purohit without considering that Lucknow High Court had granted interim protection in a First Information Report (FIR) registered in Lucknow. He also added that the other reason that the High Court stated while denying the anticipatory bail was that Purohit was not being cooperative with the investigation.
The Supreme Court took note that Purohit had cooperated with the FIR in Lucknow and has no role in writing or producing the web series. The court also observed that the streaming platform had issued an unconditional apology on March 2stating that it “deeply regrets” that certain scenes from the series were objectionable for the audience which was unintentional and so have been edited or removed soon after they were brought to attention.
Observing Purohit’s cooperation with the investigation and appearance before the court whenever summoned, a bench comprising Justices Ashok Bhushan and R Subhash Reddy granted her protection from arrest.
Tandav is a political thriller web series created, directed and produced by Ali Abbas Zafar and scripted by Gaurav Solanki. The series stars Saif Ali Khan, Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub, Sunil Grover, Dimple Kapadia, Tigmanshu Dhulia, Dino Morea, Sarah Jane Dias, Gauahar Khan, Kritika Kamra, and Anup Soni. The show premiered on Amazon Prime Video on January 15.