Netflix Series Faces Legal Case Over Portrayal of Ex-India Prime Minister

Saif Ali Khan Netflix 'Sacred Games' - Publicity - H 2018
Courtesy of Netflix

'Sacred Games,' the streaming service's first Indian original series, has been accused of "harming the reputation" of late official Rajiv Gandhi and for including "inappropriate dialogues, political attacks and even speeches which are derogatory in nature."

Netflix's first Indian original series, Sacred Games, is facing a legal case over its controversial portrayal of former Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. The eight-episode series premiered worldwide on the service July 6 and has garnered critical praise, with The Hollywood Reporter calling it a "compelling, if mostly familiar, cops-and-gangsters epic."

Directed by Anurag Kashyap and Vikramaditya Motwane, the series opens with actor Saif Ali Khan as Sartaj Singh, a Mumbai policeman who gets a surprise call from notorious gangster Ganesh Gaitonde (Nawazuddin Siddiqui), who was missing and considered dead for 15 years. Gaitonde tells Singh he has 25 days to save Mumbai and its residents (save for one person) who all face imminent death, leading him on a quest to unravel the mystery.

Based on the acclaimed 2006 novel of the same name by Vikram Chandra, Sacred Games revolves around the nexus of politics and the Mumbai underworld and includes bits of news footage spanning some four decades of the country's political history.

One sequence shows footage of Gandhi being sworn in after his mother, then-Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, was assassinated in 1984. Gaitonde's voiceover explains how Gandhi was among those who were later implicated on corruption charges relating to the purchase of guns for the Indian army from Swedish arms manufacturer Bofors, which caused a major political scandal.

Over more archival footage, Gaitonde's voiceover then accuses Gandhi of appeasing Muslims in a legal case involving divorce rights for Muslim women, calling him a fattu, a Hindi slang word used to describe someone who is a coward.

India does not censor internet content, unlike films and television, which have to adhere to proscribed guidelines and norms. The case against Netflix and the makers of Sacred Games was filed in the Delhi High Court by Nikhil Bhalla, a lawyer and member of the Congress party, which Gandhi led until his assassination in 1991. The Congress party is currently in the opposition, led by Rajiv's son Rahul Gandhi, following its defeat in the 2014 elections that were swept by the Bharatiya Janata Party.

"The show Sacred Games has inappropriate dialogues, political attacks and even speeches, which are derogatory in nature and harms the reputation of the former Prime Minister ... Rajiv Gandhi," said the petition, quoted by Reuters, adding, "We cannot afford to, in the name of freedom of speech, allow anything to be beamed in every home without regard to its impact on society."

The case came up for hearing Thursday but the court has adjourned the next hearing for July 16.

Meanwhile, Sacred Games is facing a police complaint filed by another Congress party member, Rajeev Sinha, based in the western city of Kolkata. In his complaint filed Tuesday, Sinha said the show includes "vile words" against Gandhi. A police official was quoted by the Times of India stating that the complaint was received "and we will go through the authenticity of it."

THR has reached out to Netflix for comment.