The Supreme Court today issued notice in the petition filed by the director and producers of Amazon web series Tandav seeking the clubbing of FIRs lodged against them across the country.
The Court, however, refused to grant protection from coercive action to the petitioners. It instead asked them to approach High Courts across the country for anticipatory bail.
The matter was taken up for hearing by a Bench of Justices Ashok Bhushan, R Subhash Reddy, and MR Shah.
At the outset, Senior Advocate Fali Nariman, appearing for one of the petitioners, submitted that apologies for the objectionable content have been made.
Justice Bhushan then asked,
“You want the FIRs to be quashed. But why can’t you approach the High Courts?”
Nariman highlighted that the FIRs were filed in six different states.
Justice Shah added that the police can file closure reports if apologies have been made and the content is removed.
Appearing for another petitioner, Senior Advocate Mukul Rohatgi then pointed out,
“In Arnab Goswami case, it has been established that after a violation of Article 19(1)(a), we can move Supreme Court. Party is in Mumbai, how many states will they go and defend themselves in six states?”
Senior Advocate Sidharth Luthra added that the director of the show was being harassed.
At this point, Justice Shah said,
“Your right to freedom of speech is not absolute. Its subjected to restrictions.”
When the matter resumed for hearing after lunch, Luthra sought to show that the registration of FIRs was not a tenable exercise of power.
Justice Shah then said,
“How can we decide under Article 32 if an offence has been committed now?”
Luthra also referred to the Amish Devgan case, in which the Court granted interim protection to the journalist, who was also facing multiple FIRs for hurting religious sentiments.
He went on to argue,
“This is an analytical serial about political and social issues. When objection was taken, we deleted the scenes. Amazon and other OTT platforms are not like Doordarshan etc. It is based on choice and consent where I see only when I agree to watch a political satire…”
Appearing for Tandav actor Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub, Advocate Siddharth Aggarwal contended that the views ascribed on screen cannot be prescribed to his client in person.
Justice Shah replied,
“You cannot take up role without reading script. You cannot play a role hurting religious sentiments of others.”
After hearing the parties, the Court issued notice on the prayer for clubbing of FIRs. It, however, did not entertain the prayer for protection from coercive action against the petitioners.
Director Ali Abbas Zafar and producers Himanshu Mehra and Gaurav Solanki approached the Supreme Court seeking quashing of the FIRs registered against them in connection with the Amazon Prime series Tandav.
They stated in their plea that the show has been made purely for entertainment purposes, and being a work of fiction, any resemblance to any person living or dead or to any event is merely coincidental. Further, Tandav and its characters in no manner depict/portray/represent any gods and/or goddesses of any religion whatsoever.
The plea filed through stated,
“The Petitioners submit that they absolutely did not intend to offend the sentiments of any individual, caste, community, race or religion or to denigrate any institution, political party or person living or dead…The alleged offending & scenes are rather, only a contemporary depiction of societal norms and growing influence of social media in our day to day lives.”
Explaining how the offences alleged against them are baseless, the plea went on to state,
“The episode if seen in totality would demonstrate that there is absolutely no element which promotes enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence language [S.153A], no imputation or assertion prejudicial to national integration [Section 153B], there is no injury or defilement of a place of worship with intent to insult the religion of any class [S. 295], either deliberate or malicious [Section 295A], no ingredient is made out for forgery for purpose of harming reputation [Section 469] nor has any statement been made which is likely to cause, fear or alarm to the public or to any section whereby any person may be induced to commit an offence against the State or public tranquility [Section 505(1)(b)]. Furthermore, the invocation of Section 66, 66F, 67 IT Act and Schedule Castes & Schedule Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 is patently absurd on the face of it…”
It was further pointed out that the alleged objectionable clips have been suitably altered, amended, or deleted.
The multiplicity of criminal proceedings/FIRs registered by various persons across different jurisdictions is nothing but an abuse of process of law, the petitioners contended.
On these grounds, it was prayed that the Court quash the FIRs registered against the petitioners at the police stations in Hazratganj, Rabupura, Katri, Omti and Ghatkopar, as well as the complaints filed at Indore and before the Patiala House Court in Delhi.
In the alternative, it was prayed that the FIRs be clubbed and transferred to Mumbai.
They also sought directions from the Court that no cognizance be taken of the existing complaints, and that no new FIR be registered in relation to the web series.