The Allahabad High Court on Friday granted interim protection from arrest to Ritesh Sidhwani and Farhan Akhtar, the producers of Amazon Prime web series Mirzapur, in connection with a case filed against them for their portrayal of the town on which the show is based, reported Live Law.
A bench of Justices Subhash Chand and Manoj Kumar Gupta issued notices to the Uttar Pradesh government and the complainant in the matter, seeking their reply. The court also directed the petitioners to fully cooperate in the investigation, reported the Hindustan Times.
A first information report was filed on January 17 against Sidhwani and Akhtar, who had then moved the High Court. The FIR was registered under Sections 295A (deliberate and malicious acts, intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs), 504 (intentional insult with intent to provoke breach of the peace) and 505 (statements conducing to public mischief) of the Indian Penal Code.
The complainant said that the web series depicts Uttar Pradesh’s Mirzapur town as anti-social and infested with crime. The series promotes illicit relationships, abusive language, casteism and shows a wrong picture of the legal system in the town, the FIR said.
The complainant said that the portrayal of the town was far from reality and has hurt his sentiments. The FIR also said that some of the complainant’s friends and acquaintances have started calling him “Kaleen Bhaiyya”, who is the antagonist in the series and indulges in various illegal activities.
Sidhwani and Akhtar, in their petition, said that the show is a work of fiction and the same is clarified at the beginning of each episode using a disclaimer. They said the web series needs to be seen in light of artistic freedom granted under Article 19 of the Constitution, which deals with freedom of speech.
They also submitted that the series is created and is shown without any intention to hurt religious sentiments or incite any person to commit any offence against any other class or community. The petition said the show does not intend to promote enmity, hatred or ill will between classes.
Sidhwani and Akhtar also argued that the first season of the series was released in November 2018 and the second season on October 2020, and pointed out that the FIR was filed almost after three months.
The producers had sought the quashing of the FIR as well as stay on arrest. The High Court has listed the matter for hearing in the first week of March.
In a similar case, multiple first information reports have been filed against the makers and actors of Amazon Prime web series Tandav for allegedly hurting religious sentiments. The Supreme Court, however, has refused to grant them protection from arrest.
The web series purportedly provides a commentary on India’s political scene under the Narendra Modi government. The show touches upon farmer agitations to student protests to police killings – all events that have happened under the administration of the Bharatiya Janata Party.