Taking offense on anything and everything seems to have become the norm in India these days. After “Tandav,” the latest show to draw flak is Netflix’s “Bombay Begums,” which marks Pooja Bhatt’s comeback. An Indian government agency for protecting child rights has asked Netflix Inc., to immediately stop streaming the series after it reviewed complaints around scenes showing children consuming drugs.
In a letter to Netflix late on March 12, the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) asked the U.S. streaming giant to investigate the matter and submit a report within 24 hours, or face further action. The NCPCR notice referred to a tweet by Twitter handle@GemsOfBollywood, which reported that the series shows minors indulging in drug abuse.
Sharing screenshots from show, the complainant wrote, “From normalization of minors indulging in casual sex we now have web series showing minors having cocaine. Screen grab from “Bombay Begums’ where a 13yr old is snorting coke as the party she goes to is all about alcohol, drugs (sic).” “The series with this type of content will not only pollute the young minds of children, and may also result in abuse and exploitation of children,” the notice said.
Describing it as a “serious issue,” the notice states that “the series with this type of content will not only pollute the young minds of the children, and may also result in the abuse and the exploitation of children at the hands of the perpetrator(s) and offender(s). The Commission does not allow representing, portraying and glorifying children in India in such a manner on any media platform/internet/OTTs etc,” the notice adds. “Netflix should take extra precaution while streaming any content in respect of the children or for the children and shall also, refrain themselves from getting into such things.”
“Bombay Begums,” created by feminist, award- winning filmmaker Alankrita Shrivastava (“Lipstick Under My Burkha”), follows the lives of five women across different generations who wrestle with desire, ethics, crises and vulnerabilities in contemporary Mumbai. It stars Pooja Bhatt, Shahana Goswami Amruta Subhash, Plabita Borthakur and Aadhya Anand along with Rahul Bose, Vivek Gomber and Danish Husain. It is produced by Endemol Shine India, Endeavor Content and Chernin Entertainment for Netflix.
After the news broke out, netizens reacted and agreed with NCPCR that the series will pollute the minds of young children and may also result in the abuse and exploitation of children. One user wrote:
Not the one to shy away from controversy, celebs have joined in with their voices. Filmmakers Hansal Mehta and Pritish Nandy questioned the NCPRC’s objection to the Netflix series “Bombay Begums,” wondering if it is another assault on the creative freedom of filmmakers, under the current BJP-led government. Mehta, who has given 2020’s successful web series “Scam 1992,” asks a rather valid question, “Do these people spend all their time watching OTT shows or do they actually work for child rights? Looks like the NCPCR pressed the wrong buttons on this one.”
Filmmaker Anubhav Sinha replied to Mehta’s post and said, “They are doing their ‘job’. We are not doing ours. This too shall ‘not’ pass.”
Nandy also criticized the NCPCR notice to Netflix and “Bombay Begums” makers. “When will this stop? This constant demand for content to be changed or pulled off the screen! Is all creative freedom under siege?” he tweeted. “Why don’t we simply ban everything. Would make life easier for everyone,” Nandy wrote in another post.
Actor Sulagna Chatterjee asked people to speak up in support of the show’s makers. “Speak up, stand with #BombayBegums, people. Don’t let these bullies and honking-loudspeakers of ‘culture saviors’ silence our artistic integrity, please,” she wrote.
However, filmmaker Vivek Agnihotri defended NCPCR, saying it is a “crime” to show teenagers being involved in “drug usage, violence or perversion. He wrote:
“So OTTs realized that adults have issues with perversion so they shifted their focus on children. #BombayBegums,” he said in another post.
He went on to raise a debate on the idea of free speech, “If it’s free speech to make a web show of any kind then how come its criticism is not free speech? Or, your free speech is better than my free speech?” Sharing a clip of the child smoking in the series, he wrote:
His attack may have also gone too far as he calls out the OTT platforms as leftist on Twitter.
Hailing NCPCR action against the web series, author and speaker Shefali Vaidya tweeted:
Many were quick to say that they will be watching “Bombay Begums” upon seeing the trailer, irrespective of the controversy. “Watching #BombayBegums only cos of @PoojaB1972. What a comeback,” posted badminton player Jwala Gutta on March 8.
Others that have been vocal about their support for the show include Meeta Sengupta, writer and advisor for education strategy, took to Twitter.
Author and journalist Saba Naqvi tweeted in support of the series.
Meanwhile, actors Pooja Bhat and Danish Hussain from the show refrained from giving an answer but were rather busy re-tweeting the positive feedback from viewers on their series.
The controversy is the latest to hit video streaming platforms like Netflix and Amazon Prime in India, where they have faced complaints also around promoting obscenity or hurting religious sentiments. Industry executives say such complaints go against freedom of speech and expression in the country. Prior to this, the Amazon Prime series “Tandav” caused a political storm as it attracted a huge controversy for a scene depicting a college theatrical program, leading to allegations that the show hurt religious sentiments and multiple FIRs. Netflix has not yet responded.
Anu Ghosh immigrated to the U.S. from India in 1999. Back in India she was a journalist for the Times of India in Pune for 8 years and a graduate from the Symbiosis Institute of Journalism and Communication. In the U.S., she obtained her Masters and PhD. in Communications from The Ohio State University. Go Buckeyes! She has been involved in education for the last 15 years, as a professor at Oglethorpe University and then Georgia State University. She currently teaches Special Education at Oak Grove Elementary. She is also a mom to two precocious girls ages 11 and 6.