Director of Amazon India Drama Cuts Scenes Amid Outcry From Hindu Nationalists
ARPORA, India — The director of a big-budget Amazon web series has bowed to pressure from Hindu nationalists and cut several scenes that they had deemed offensive, demonstrating the sway of a powerful political movement that strives to reshape Indian society.
Ali Abbas Zafar, the director of “Tandav,” a gritty political drama, made the edits amid an intensifying outcry about the show and calls for a boycott.
Hindu nationalists, including members of the governing Bharatiya Janata Party, or B.J.P., have accused Mr. Zafar of insulting Hindu deities and stirring up animosity between Hindus and Muslims and between upper castes and lower castes.
Mr. Zafar said on Twitter on Tuesday that the show’s cast and crew had decided to “implement changes to address the concerns raised,” and since then, several scenes have been excised. But on Friday, some critics continued to drum up opposition, calling for Mr. Zafar to be put in jail.
Officials at Amazon Prime declined to comment.
The creators of “Tandav” have been caught up in the sweeping political and social changes in India driven by a Hindu nationalist movement. Led by Narendra Modi, the Indian prime minister who has shouldered aside significant opposition, that movement champions India as a Hindu nation that pushes other groups, including its significant Muslim minority, to the margins.
The pressure has extended into culture. In recent years, Hindu nationalists have heavily criticized Bollywood, the central Indian filmmaking industry, for depictions that run counter to their beliefs.
Among the cuts made to “Tandav” was a scene in which a university student is seen playing Lord Shiva, a Hindu god, on a stage. In another scene that was taken out, a fictionalized prime minister speaks derisively to a member of a lower caste.
But on Friday, Ram Kadam, a B.J.P. state lawmaker who had earlier filed a criminal complaint against the show’s creators, said the edits were not enough.
“This is a fight against the type of people who hurt the religious sentiments of Hindus,” he said. “They must go behind bars.”
At least three criminal complaints have been filed, including one that accuses the show of promoting hatred between different religions, a serious crime in India. Already investigators in Uttar Pradesh State, run by one of Mr. Modi’s closest allies, have summoned Mr. Zafar to speak to them.
But the true reason for the complaints against “Tandav” may be that the show holds up a mirror uncomfortably close to Indian society and some of the problems blamed on Mr. Modi’s administration. In the opening episode, the show features protesting students and disgruntled farmers, echoing events that have taken place in recent months. (Mr. Zafar has said the show is a work of fiction.)
“Tandav” is just one of many recent productions that have provoked the ire of Hindu nationalists. Earlier this week, a journalist filed a criminal complaint against the makers of “Mirzapur,” another Amazon web series, and the name of a midsize town in northern India. The journalist said the series hurt religious and regional sentiments and defamed the town.
In recent months, similar pressure has been exerted on Netflix. Several of the platform’s productions have come under attack, including a show that featured a Hindu woman kissing a Muslim man, with a Hindu temple in the backdrop, which Hindus denounced as offensive to their beliefs. Hindu nationalists have tried to shut down interfaith marriages, and recent laws in several of India’s states have targeted interfaith couples.
Gaurav Tiwari, an official in the youth wing of the B.J.P. who has filed a complaint against Netflix officials, said the government needed to protect the public from what he described as vulgar and anti-Hindu content.
“People have been murdered for cartoons in other religions, and look at what is happening with ours,” Mr. Tiwari said. “If this continues unabated, what will the future generations of Hindus look back on when they see movies like these?”
Mr. Tiwari called for the strictest form of punishments against Netflix and Amazon, including banning them from India for a few years.
Entertainment industry analysts said the restrictive environment has meant that many filmmakers are now shying away from subjects that touch on religion or politics.
“This is exactly what this government wants,” said Ankur Pathak, a former entertainment editor at Huffington Post India. “It’s very clear this kind of bullying of streaming platforms is a broader ideological project of the B.J.P. to wipe out any kind of ideological or political critique.”
“The internet is the only free form of medium which exists against the present political regime,” he added. “And that makes them very anxious.”
Suhasini Raj reported from Arpora, and Jeffrey Gettleman from New Delhi.