Dissenting Cinema: Why India Censors Films

The Indian government has long been quick to censor content that poses a challenge to the reigning politics of the time.

Meher Manda

February 23, 2021

Dissenting Cinema: Why India Censors Films
A controversial scene from the 2020 adaptation of 'A Suitable Boy' (BBC)

In Tandav, Ali Abbas Zafar’s 2021 political Amazon Prime series, a student-turned-politician Shiva (Mohammad Zeeshan Ayyub) plays Lord Shiva in a college play. But his Serpent God is not weighed down by mythological costume and makeup — he plays a trendier Lord Shiva, in denim pants and leather jacket, musing about his social media follower count compared to that of Lord Ram’s. This scene prompted a vigorous outburst in real life. Viewers offended by what they felt was blasphemous content called for the banning of the series and Amazon Prime. #BoycottTandav began trending on Twitter, and users charged Islamophobic attacks against director Zafar, star Saif Ali Khan who was leading the cast, and Ayyub. Rajput organization Karni Sena even promised a reward of Rs. 1 crore to anyone who would cut off the tongue of the show’s makers. 

The coordinated online attack against Tandav happened a few months after some audiences were outraged by a scene in Mira Nair’s A Suitable Boy (2020), which showed a kiss between a Hindu girl and a Muslim boy in what appeared to be a temple. #BanNetflix began trending on Twitter. Previously, controversy had raged over Netflix shows Sacred Games (2018), Leila (2019), and Ghoul (2018). But despite the calls for censorship, streaming platforms were never obligated to censor their content. Yet.