Netflix has been accused of defaming lawyers in the TV show Hasmukh, where a character goes on a rant against lawyers. The Delhi High Court on April 27 issued notice to Netflix on the petition, filed by advocate Ashutosh Dubey. On the Sunday hearing, which was held online, Netflix’s legal team urged the court to dismiss the suit, calling it a publicity stunt, according to two people familiar with the proceedings.

Netflix and the show’s producers, as well as Vir Das, who stars in the show, and its director Nikhil Gonsalves, were directed to submit a note on their positions today. The line the petitioner objected to was this:

(Translation: But here we don’t call them thieves; we call them lawyers. Your lawyer is the worst of scoundrels and thieves. They’re all vendors of justice, who will never face justice, because they rape with their pens. Oh brother, they say the law is blind, but I say that in Mumbai the law is dirty because of that little baton of a pen in the hands of a lawyer.)

During yesterday’s hearings, Netflix made these arguments to dismiss the suit, per the people we spoke to:

  • Lawyers as a class cannot be defamed, and cases involving lawyers being defamed as a class have routinely been dismissed in India. These are generalizations that are the stock-in-trade of ordinary speech. Therefore the law of defamation does not cover that.
  • Even if they were, Hasmukh is a fictional show depicting highly unethical characters to begin with. It is not a documentary. (The company cited this judgement by Justice DY Chandrachud, a part of which says: “The views of the writer of a play, the metre of a poet or the sketches of a cartoonist may not be palatable to those who are criticized. Those who disagree have a simple expedient: of not watching a film, not turning the pages of the book or not hearing what is not music to their ears.”)
  • If injunction was granted, the court would have a long line of people asking for other content to be taken down in the interim while their case is being heard.
  • This is a publicity stunt as news websites had reported on the petition, and even quoted from it, before it was listed.

In 2018, Congress lawyer Nikhil Bhalla sued Netflix for a scene in Sacred Games where a character calls the late Rajiv Gandhi a “pussy”. The Delhi High Court dismissed that lawsuit after the government filed a briefing in the defense of free speech.