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Offended by Netflix show, Madhya Pradesh home minister orders probe

Madhya Pradesh Home Minister Dr Narottam Mishra said on Sunday that he found a Netflix show, A Suitable Boy, “very offensive”, and directed state police to investigate the show. An episode Mishra referred to has a scene depicting a kiss in a temple, and this seems to have upset the right wing, which orchestrated a trend to #BanNetflix over the weekend (again, after having done so following similarly mass-produced outrage for a different show in May). In a later tweet, Mishra said that an FIR has been registered against Monika Shergill, vice-president, Content (Netflix) and Ambika Khurana, Director, Public Policies (Netflix) by Rewa police.

The BBC drama based on Vikram Seth’s novel of the same name is being streamed in India as a Netflix original. The outrage is somewhat delayed, as the film released on October 23.

“A film called “A Suitable Boy” is streaming on an OTT platform. It depicts visuals that hurt religious sentiments. I have directed police authorities to investigate the objectionable content. The authorities will investigate and determine what legal proceedings can be initiated against the OTT platform and the film for hurting religious sentiments.” — Madhya Pradesh Home Minister Dr Narottam Mishra (translated from Hindi)

Netflix refused to comment on Mishra’s remarks.

Mishra’s investigation and the organised backlash accompanying it on social media come as the streaming industry feels pressure to have stricter regulation of their content. The Ministry of Information & Broadcasting refused to endorse most large streaming services’ self-regulation code, and subsequently captured administrative authority for shows and films made available online. MP Babul Supriyo later told Bollywood Hungama that OTT platforms, subsequent to this move, would no longer have “unlimited freedom”, but seemed to backtrack somewhat in saying that there should be parental controls on content, which streaming services have already agreed to put in place.

While streaming services have no equivalent of a Central Board of Film Certification, their self-censorship compensates. In 2020 alone, streaming services have censored themselves at least eight times — over the last few years, the number of recorded instances of self-censorship on OTT platforms has only grown, even as the government shows a worrying amount of zeal in trying to place them under further regulation.

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I cover the digital content ecosystem and telecom for MediaNama.

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