Ali Abbas Zafar’s explosive Amazon Prime Video India political drama “Tandav,” which began streaming Jan. 15, has drawn the ire of Hindu nationalist lawmakers.
Manoj Kotak, a member of parliament from Mumbai, has written to India’s information and broadcasting minister Prakash Javadekar, asking for a ban on “Tandav,” accusing the creative team — in which the chief creators are Muslim — of “deliberately mocking Hindu Gods,” and disrespecting “Hindu religious sentiments.”
Set in Delhi and played out like an Indian “House of Cards,” “Tandav” features a diverse set of characters scheming for political power. The show has a ripped-from-the-headlines plot that fearlessly takes on events like the 2019 student uprising in India and systemic marginalization of minority communities, all while taking potshots at dynastic rule. Although the show tried to veer away from antagonizing the ruling Hindu nationalist government, the scandal suggests it hasn’t been as successful as it might have hoped.
Variety understands that the scene at the center of the storm is where actor Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub, who is Muslim, portrays the Hindu God Shiva in a stage play.
Kotak, who belongs to the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), also called for a government regulatory authority to govern Indian streamers. The sector is currently self-regulated but falls under the purview of the I&B ministry.
Meanwhile, several other BJP leaders have also objected to the show, and party member Ram Kadam has filed a complaint with the police against the makers.
Kadam tweeted: “Why is it becoming a trend amongst films and web series makers to demean Hindu gods? Latest culprit seems to be the series #Tandav. #SaifAliKhan again part of a film or series which attempts to target Hindu deities. Director Ali Abbas Zafar needs to remove that scene which mocks Hindu God Shiva. Actor Mohd Zeeshan Ayyub needs to apologise and Tandav should be boycotted until necessary changes are made. #BoycottTandav.”
Amazon declined to comment.
Zafar is the director of Bollywood hits “Sultan,” “Tiger Zinda Hai” and “Bharat,” starring superstar Salman Khan.
“I just wanted to do something which was set in the middle of Indian politics, but in a very theatrical, Shakespearean way,” Zafar told Variety, in an interview prior to the BJP complaints. Zafar cites the social and emotional politics in plays as diverse as “Othello,” “Macbeth,” “Julius Caesar,” and even “Romeo and Juliet” and says that as long as there is power and exploitation of power, political themes are timeless.
“This show could be placed in the U.S. or U.K. or Russia or the Middle East or anywhere else in the world — you could just change the names of the characters and the way they act and the way they use or misuse the power would be exactly the same, hence Shakespeare,” says Zafar.
The idea came to Zafar on the heels of his second film “Gunday” (2014), while he was waiting for Salman Khan’s dates for “Sultan.” Originally designed as a film, Zafar and his writer Gaurav Solanki (“Article 15”) developed the story through the process of two more Khan films, “Tiger Zinda Hai” and “Bharat” and came to the conclusion that it needed a longer platform. And that’s when Amazon came into the picture.
“Ours is a country that is obsessed with politics: there’s politics in everything that we do, even our relationships,” Aparna Purohit, head of India originals at Amazon, told Variety, also prior to the BJP complaints.
“It’s a story about ambition, about people you see on television, read about in the newspapers, but you don’t really get an insight into their minds, the machinations and manipulations, the schemes, the personal relationships and how those get impacted in all of this. That is what really drew us,” adds Purohit.
“Tandav” boasts a heavyweight cast including Saif Ali Khan (“Sacred Games”), Dimple Kapadia (“Tenet”), Tigmanshu Dhulia (“Gangs of Wasseypur”), Mohd. Zeeshan Ayyub (“Article 15”), Sunil Grover (“Bharat”), Sandhya Mridul (“Nirvana Inn”), Kumud Mishra (“Ram Singh Charlie”) and Sarah Jane Dias (“Zubaan”).
“There is a more subtle side to Ali’s storytelling that has come out in this format,” says Khan. “It was great collaborating with him. He knows that a populist story needs a slightly different weight of hand to narrate the story. It needs a lighter and a different touch at certain places and I am glad that everything is taken care of. He has been one of the best directors to work with who has a great cinematic vision.”
The series is produced by Himanshu Kishan Mehra and Zafar’s Offside Entertainment.
Next up for Zafar is a reboot of iconic 1987 film “Mr. India,” which was directed by Shekhar Kapur (“Elizabeth”) and starred Anil Kapoor (“Slumdog Millionaire”) and the late Sridevi. When asked if he has any further projects with Salman Khan coming up, Zafar cryptically says, “Right now, I’ve still not cast ‘Mr. India,’ so I cannot say anything.”
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