Amazon Prime has issued a rare apology after its new web mini-series came under investigation for insulting Hinduism in a landmark case for India, one of the world’s fastest-growing streaming markets.
Ten separate cases have been filed against a senior Amazon Prime executive and the makers of Tandav after a scene showed an actor dressed as Hindu deity Lord Shiva in a play using the politically-charged Urdu-language word azaadi, which has been adopted by protesters demonstrating against India’s ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
Manoj Kotak, a BJP parliamentarian, accused the directors of “deliberately mocking Hindu gods and disrespect[ing] Hindu sentiments,” after the scene also showed the actor playing Lord Shiva complaining of having fewer social media followers than other deities.
A second BJP parliamentarian, Ram Kadam, filed a complaint against the series with one of the other objections coming from a right-wing Hindu group.
“After watching the series, it was found that in the 17th minute of the first episode, characters playing Hindu gods and goddesses have been shown in an uncharitable way and using objectionable language, which can incite religious tension,” read a police statement from India’s northern state of Uttar Pradesh.
Amidst growing outrage, executives from Amazon Prime India were summoned for a meeting with India's Information and Broadcast Ministry, and the offending scene involving the actor playing Lord Shiva was cut.
On Tuesday night, Amazon Prime Video issued an apology for the “objectionable” scenes in Tandav, the plea coming days after a court in the city of Prayagraj refused bail for the company’s India content chief.
“We respect our viewers’ diverse beliefs and apologise unconditionally to anyone who felt hurt by these scenes,” read a section of the statement.
India is considered as a key growth market for digital streaming platforms including Amazon Prime, Netflix, and Disney/Hotstar due to its emergent middle class and the fact that mobile data is among the cheapest in the world.
However, the Tandav case has again raised concerns over freedom of speech for media platforms, with police in the state of Madhya Pradesh filing a criminal complaint in November over the Netflix mini-series A Suitable Boy after it contained a kiss between an interfaith couple.
Last week, the Indian Government introduced new social media laws which require all companies to remove offensive content that threatens the "unity, integrity, defence, security or sovereignty of India" within 36 hours. It is feared the same laws could also be used against streaming platforms to remove content the authorities deem to be critical.