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I&B Minister Prakash Javadekar intervened to censor Zee5/ALT Balaji show: BJP MP

Minister of Information & Broadcasting Prakash Javadekar intervened to get an ALT Balaji/Zee5 show censored, BJP MP Dr. Vikas Mahatme said in the Rajya Sabha. Mahatme took offence to a signboard in the show that contained the name Ahilyabai, purporting that it defamed Ahilyabai Holkar, an 18th century Maratha ruler. While government officials have used their influence on web series in the past — like when Subramanian Swamy spoke to Zee group’s head Subhash Chandra to delay a Tamil Zee5 show — this instance is notable since I&B Minister Javadekar himself is said to have intervened.

We have reached out to ALT Balaji and Zee5 to confirm this.

Mahatme’s full statement in the upper house, translated from Hindi, follows:

Sir, I will now speak on an important subject. In a recent web series, Virgin Bhasskar, our Punyashlok Ahilyabai Holkar’s name has been used in a defamatory manner, birthing anger in the minds of the Shepherd [sic] community. In particular, Gadariya, Baghel, Gayatri, Kuruma, Kurumba and all those who venerate Ahilyabai Holkar-ji and other communities who respect her, in reaction to this web series’s offending [portrayal], have been greatly angered, and are furious. Although with help from Honorable Minister Prakash Javadekar-ji this [reference] was removed, any play that is staged or movie that is screened requires a certificate, clarity [sic] from the censor board. These days, web series depict pornographic material, rampant swearing, sex scandals, nude scenes, and so on, but there is no certification [system] or legal action that takes place.

[emphasis ours]

Seven Members of Parliament “associated” themselves with the remarks, that is to say, endorsed Mahatme’s remarks. The MPs were KC Ramamurthy, Roopa Ganguly, Suresh Gopi, Amar Patnaik, Kanta Kardam, Harnath Singh Yadav. and Rakesh Sinha, according to the uncorrected transcript of the day’s proceedings published on the Rajya Sabha website.

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The apparent “defamatory manner” in which Holkar was brought up was in a signboard in the show for a place named “Ahilyabai Hostel”. However far-fetched that seems, Balaji Telefilms’s joint managing director and creative head Ekta Kapoor’s home was reportedly vandalised by a mob because of it last week. In ALT Balaji’s telling, the show was censored voluntarily following outrage by “some sections of society”. The statement did not mention Javadekar.

In response to MP Mahatme’s remarks, Vice President Venkaiah Naidu said, “It is a very important issue but there is no law as of now, I am told.” He added, “But it has to be examined.”

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I cover the digital content ecosystem and telecom for MediaNama.

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