Netflix has released a version of the popular series Vikings in India with scenes containing nudity, violence, and in one case, meat, being blurred. This comes after the company chose to release the television cut of the series since it had a dub in Hindi, and the extended version did not. In other territories like Italy and the US, the show is uncensored, while in India, users have reported anything from gore to intimate scenes being censored. Netflix declined to comment.

Viewers have been reporting such censorship on the show at least since January — Twitter user Eashan Parekh pointed out that a scene of nudity from the back had been entirely blurred. Other users have complained of shortened sequences involving violence and blurring of gore as well. Vikings on Netflix in other countries, including the UAE, hasn’t been censored like this. It’s worth mentioning here that there are two cuts of Vikings — an extended cut where some episodes feature nudity and gorier scenes of violence, and another that was made for TV broadcast on the History Channel. The version on Netflix India adds censorship on top of the TV cut.

Netflix’s censorship in India

This is the second instance of Netflix censoring a title specifically in India, while not doing so in other countries. Angry Indian Goddesses, as we first reported, was released censored in India after the film came out uncut in other countries. After users complained, Netflix released the uncut version here too.

History TV18, the joint venture channel that runs History Channel content in India, first broadcast Vikings. Netflix ran this cut directly because the Hindi dub would not sync up with the extended uncensored version. Even so, it’s unclear why Netflix ran this version as it was, as even a cursory quality assessment would uncover these unsightly blurs. Even in the case of Angry Indian Goddesses, film producer Gaurav Dhingra told us that while Netflix asked for a censored version of the film, they delayed its release until the movie’s producers removed smoking warnings for quality reasons. Even if Netflix wanted to keep the Hindi dub on Vikings (and therefore also the cuts in the History TV18 version), it’s unclear why they didn’t do something similar and ask TV18 to deliver a version without visual blurs. We have reached out to History TV18 for comment.

Netflix’s censorship in India has otherwise been more behind-the-scenes than in-your-face like with Vikings. For instance, Netflix lawyers urged Hasan Minhaj to not show a map of Jammu & Kashmir on his show Patriot Act, arguing that they’d be sued if he did so. Minhaj complied. In a separate instance, Netflix apparently backed out of buying a film called Sexy Durga, presumably unwilling to offend Hindu viewers. The company has also been adding disclaimers before Indian original shows, an unusual practice for it in other markets. In addition, the company sometimes releases theatrically-approved versions of Indian films globally, which sometimes have alcohol bottles blurred out. For example, the company released a version of Udta Punjab that was censored for theatres; this version had disclaimers added in the beginning of the film, and shortened a sequence involving Shahid Kapoor’s character urinating on his audience.

Streaming censorship looms

Of late, the government has been increasing the pressure on streaming platforms to create a quasi-judicial content regulation body. The Digital Content Complaints Committee, the Internet and Mobile Association of India’s proposed solution, has divided the industry. That committee, called “tier-2” among IAMAI members, would have the power to penalise streaming services for objectionable content, such as insults of state symbols. It has the support of only a minority of streaming services. Right before the COVID-19 pandemic started, members were in the process of deliberating on a consensus position.

That discussion seems to be on hold, and a media statement published for ZEE5 CEO Tarun Katyal taking over as IAMAI’s Digital Entertainment Committee chairman makes no mention of the issue.

Update (June 2): Updated with clarification on the cause behind the use of the TV cut on Netflix.