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Exclusive: Netflix’s letter to child rights commission on Bombay Begums

In a letter to the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR), Netflix argued that its show ‘Bombay Begums’ did not promote substance abuse or depict minors engaging in sexual activity. MediaNama accessed the letter sent by Netflix India on March 12 to the NCPCR through a Right To Information (RTI) application.

“We strongly think that watching only the [scenes where one teenage girl is seen drinking alcohol and taking drugs in a party she attends for her school friend and where another girl is seen clicking pictures of herself at school to send to a guy] in isolation would not justify the entire narrative of [the character] Shai’s plot in the Series,” Netflix India Director & Senior Counsel, Intellectual Property Priyanka Chaudhari said.

The streaming platform  that watching the series in “isolation would not justify the entire narrative” framed around the minor character portrayed in the series and that by watching the entire series would “leave a positive impact” on viewers.”Any viewer who watches these Scenes as a part of the Series, will understand the positive narrative and messaging to the youth that we are trying to communicate through the journey of this character,” Chaudhari added.

Netflix declined to comment on the letter.

The NCPCR was not convinced by that argument, and forwarded the case to Mumbai Police on March 16. In April, the NCPCR directed the Mumbai Police to register a complaint against the series in light of the specific scenes. It summoned a senior official for a virtual hearing with a action taken report in the case, PTI reported. MediaNama has reached out to Mumbai Police for further details.

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Read Netflix’s full letter to NCPCR

A verbatim rendering of Netflix’s letter to NCPCR follows.

By hand delivery

To:
National Commission for Protection of Child Rights
New Delhi- 110 001

Date: March 12, 2021

Subject: Response to your letter dated March 11, 2021 (“Letter“)

Respected Sir/Madam,

We are in receipt of your email dated March 11, 2021 whereby you had shared the Letter raising a concern about our series titled “Bombay Begums” (“Series“) and more particularly about 2 (two) scenes where one teenage girl is seen drinking alcohol and taking drugs in a party she attends for her school friend and where another girl is seen taking pictures of herself at school to send to a guy (“Scenes“). From the Letter sent by you, we understand that you have received complaints from the Twitter accounts of one Ms. Deepika Narayan Bhardwaj and Gems of Bollywood on the Scenes of the Series. We would like to state the following:

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  1. At the outset, we would want to share that the Series is a story of 5 (five) women across generations in contemporary India who are trying to shatter the glass ceilings by making difficult life choices and wrestling with personal crises, ethics, societal pressure and ambition. As each woman struggles with her own situation, they find support, understanding, friendship and empathy in each other which helps them overcome the hurdles of their lives.
  2. We think clarifying the entire plot of this character in the Series will help in understanding the creative reasoning to show the Scenes in the Series. The Scenes questioned by you are the scenes from the storyline of a teenage girl character named “Shai” who suffers from common teenage problems such as low self-esteem and body image, depression and peer pressure. Shai’s phase of depression and low self esteem begins when her biological mother dies. Shai is unable to trust her stepmother and does not share with the stepmother her personal issues, anxieties and growing up challenges.
  3. In the first scene, Shai is seen drinking alcohol and taking drugs as she is heartbroken to be rejected by a boy she likes in her class. She thinks this is the adult way of handling anger, loneliness and abandonment. This behaviour of hers is a direct link to her issues of insecurity and self hate that she has been facing in her entire plot of the Series. In the second scene, Shai sees a bunch of her classmates in school who are prettier than her clicking their pictures with a focus on their more developed women bodies than Shai which adds to Shai’s insecurity, low self esteem and want of attention from her peers. We wish to clarify that we have neither shown any nudity in the entire plot of Shai in the Series not shown any minor character to be engaged in any kind of sexual activity. The Scenes are creatively of utmost importance as they show peer pressure can get into the minds of teenage kids and make them compare themselves with others/adults thereby pushing them to have a negative image about their bodies which adversely affects the self esteem of such kids.
  4. We strongly think that watching only the Scenes in isolation would not justify the entire narrative of Shai’s plot in the Series. Any viewer who watches these Scenes as a part of the Series, will understand the positive narrative and messaging to the youth that we are trying to communicate through the journey of this character. At the end of the Series specifically after the scene no. 1, Shai is shown to be hospitalised for drug overdose, an experience through which he realises the value of her life and clearly understands the consequences of her wrong choices made under peer pressure, insecurity and rage. She finally opens up to her stepmother and becomes receptive to the parental guidance and advice she gets for her betterment. We would like to also state that Shai’s realisation that her choices made out of her insecurity and peer pressure area wrong is abundantly clear to the viewers and we are sure that the entire plot of Shai’s character when watched as a whole in the Series will leave a positive impact on our viewers.
  5. We or the creators of the Series have no intention to promote, encourage or glorify any choices made or actions taken by any fictional characters (including Shai’s character) of the Series. To justify our intent we have added a disclaimer at the start of the Series which reads as follows:DISCLAIMER

    This series is a work of fiction.

    We do not intend to endorse, promote, encourage and support any statement, action or relationship displayed between the characters of this series.

    The characters, places, names and events in this series are fictional and resemblance or similarity to any actual events, entities, places or persons is purely coincidental. We respect all faith and religion and do not intend to disrespect the beliefs, feelings, sentiments of any person, community, religion, society and its culture, custom, practice and tradition.

  6. In addition to adding a disclaimer we also ensure that we rate the content appropriately and have all parental lock mechanisms available for content rated as 18+ so only adult subscribers have access to view the Series. We also have relevant warnings cards in the place at the start of the Series to inform the viewer of various themes contained in the Series.

We trust that this context is helpful regarding the concerns you have raised, and serves to clarify our collective intent, the storyline and messaging from the plot of Shai’s character in the Series. We are happy to respond to any additional questions that you may have in this regard.

Yours Sincerely,

[digital signature]

Priyanka Chaudhari
Director & Senior Counsel, Intellectual Property

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