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Netflix chooses not to release anime series featuring Shiva in India, refuses to comment

In a significant development for censorship of Netflix in India, the company has decided not to release Record of Ragnarok, an anime series that heavily features the Hindu deity Shiva, IGN India reported. The company refused to comment on why it took this decision. Anticipatory censorship from Netflix has been relatively rare, but there is intense pressure on streaming services by Hindutva forces and the government to avoid negative depictions of Hindutva politics and Hindu deities. Record of Ragnarok depicts Shiva as a destructive fighter; the show is about a showdown between deities across the world’s pantheons and some of human history’s strongest fighters.

That pressure formed a part of the reason why the Information Technology (Intermediary Liability Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021 were notified. These Rules advise streaming services to think twice before putting out content that could cause sectarian strife. In any case, Netflix has not let things get to that level either — they seem to have chosen not to release the show altogether instead of putting it out and let the process prescribed in the Rules play out.

Netflix tones it down

This is also consistent with the company’s shifting strategy towards content with political overtones — since Sacred Games, it has rarely commissioned series that challenge the current government or criticise Hindutva in any way. Even A Suitable Boy, a BBC show that Netflix has branded as an original in some countries, got into trouble for a kiss scene with a temple in the background. Amazon gave into a similar flurry of complaints and FIRs, censoring its show Tandav in the face of mounting legal and police complaints orchestrated by right-wing forces outraged at its depiction of a Muslim actor playing a modern interpretation of Shiva on stage.

Netflix has complied with most of the IT Rules’ requirements; those Rules require the company to submit to a grievance redressal mechanism that could eventually let the government order it to take content down.

Netflix India’s censorship

Netflix intentionally censors content on rare occasions in India. Here is a timeline of recorded instances of censorship on the platform:

  • 2017: Netflix released a censored version of the film Angry Indian Goddesses in India, and put out an uncensored cut of the film in other countries. The version put out by Netflix was the one that was cleared for theatrical release by the Central Board of Film Certification, which made significant alterations to the film. After news coverage of the censorship, the company put up the uncensored cut. The film is no longer available for streaming in India.
  • 2019: The company warned Patriot Act host Hasan Minhaj against featuring a version of Kashmir’s map that is disputed by the Indian government in his show. The same year, the company reportedly refused to buy the rights to the film Sexy Durga out of political concerns. A censored cut of the film was later released on Mubi.
  • 2020: Netflix put out the censored theatrical version of Mission Impossible: Fallout in India, a rare move that was likely aimed at avoiding depicting a version of the map of Kashmir that the Indian government disputes. The same year, it emerged that a significantly censored version of the TV show Vikings was released on the streaming service in India alone. Netflix said that they couldn’t help this censorship as they wanted to include the Hindi dubbed version of the show, which was only produced for a version of the series that had already been cut for broadcast on the History Channel’s India arm.
  • 2021: The company put out a censored cut of South Park in India, with the show remaining uncensored in other territories. After MediaNama reached out for comment on the censorship, the company started streaming the uncut version of the show.

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