Amazon (AMZN) wants India to play a key role in its ambitions to conquer streaming video. But the company now faces a political backlash over one of its new original shows.
Authorities are looking into claims that Amazon’s new Prime Video series “Tandav” includes religiously insensitive content. Several Indian politicians say they have complained to the police or regulators about the company and the show’s creators.
The title is a political drama that has been likened to the hit Netflix (NFLX) series “House of Cards.” It was released last Friday on Amazon’s streaming service and boasts some of Bollywood’s biggest names, including celebrity director Ali Abbas Zafar and actor Saif Ali Khan.
The show follows a power-hungry politician who is willing to do anything to become the country’s prime minister. It appears to be loosely based on real political controversies that have erupted across the country as Hindu nationalism has grown. (The cast and crew said Monday in a statement that the show is a “work of fiction and any resemblance to acts and persons and events is purely coincidental.”)
The show’s depiction of some Hindu deities, though, has drawn ire from local lawmakers. Manoj Kotak, a member of parliament from Mumbai, said Sunday on Twitter that he has written to the country’s Minister of Information and Broadcasting urging him to “ban [the] controversial web series.”
Kotak, who is a member of the ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), said that the show’s creators appeared to be “deliberately mocking Hindu Gods.”
Amazon declined to comment on Monday.
Zafar, the director of the series, expressed “sincere apologies” on Twitter, posting a statement from Tandav’s cast and crew.
“The cast and crew of ‘Tandav’ take cognizance of the concerns expressed by the people and unconditionally apologize if it has unintentionally hurt anybody’s sentiments,” the statement read.
Authorities step in
The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, which has announced an intention to start regulating streaming services, said Monday that it had reached out to executives at Amazon about the show.
“A discussion will happen on this,” a spokesperson said.
The series has prompted other lawmakers to go to the police. Ram Kadam, another BJP leader and local legislator in the state of Maharashtra, said he filed a police complaint in Mumbai over the weekend, accusing Amazon of intending to “outrage religious sentiments” and publish “material which can cause harm.”
Local police confirmed that they had received Kadam’s complaint, but had not yet started an investigation.
Police initiated a separate investigation on Sunday in the state of Uttar Pradesh against Zafar, as well as Aparna Purohit, Amazon’s chief of Indian original Prime Video content, according to a media adviser for the state’s chief minister.
The series has also been hit by negative reviews on Amazon, which claim that the show promotes a “Hindu-phobic agenda” or comes across as “anti-Hindu.”
A critical market
India is a crucial market for Amazon. This month, a company executive called the country “one of the most exciting streaming markets in the world right now.”
During the pandemic, the firm “doubled down our investment on films in this period,” Gaurav Gandhi, director and general manager of Amazon Prime Video in India, told Deadline in a recent interview.
Original content is key to that strategy, with more than 80 titles in production or development, Purohit told the outlet.
This isn’t the first time Amazon has run into hot water in India.
The e-commerce and technology giant has had to pull products from its site that offended customers, such as a doormat that showed the Indian flag, or a skateboard that depicted an image of the Hindu god Ganesha. (Critics said that selling such goods was disrespectful, because they involved placing one’s feet on revered or religious symbols.)
The “Tandav” incident is also reminiscent of a recent encounter with Netflix (NFLX) in India. Last year, the streaming giant faced boycott calls in the country over a now-infamous kissing scene in one of its shows.
The exchange, which takes place in the series, “A Suitable Boy,” depicts a young Hindu woman being kissed by a Muslim man at a Hindu temple. The show angered some viewers in India, prompting a police complaint against Netflix executives.
Netflix declined to comment Monday about the current status of that complaint. A police official said the investigation was ongoing.
The news comes at a sensitive time for streaming services in the country. Last fall, the Indian government announced new rules for digital media, saying that online streaming platforms would be regulated by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting.
That could force companies like Amazon and Netflix to follow the same restrictions as traditional media, such as rules about showing violence or nudity.