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Removal of Netflix Film Annapoorani Shows Power of India’s Hindu Right-Wing

The recent fast removal by Netflix of the Indian film ‘Annapoorani’ has spotlighted the increasing ability of Hindu nationalist groups to control how Indian society is depicted on screens. Even as the government builds a legal framework to regulate online content, streaming platforms like Netflix are preemptively censoring themselves to avoid backlash.

Annapoorani Pulled from Netflix Within Weeks of Release

‘Annapoorani’, a lighthearted drama about a female chef in a south Indian temple town overcoming caste prejudice, premiered on Netflix on December 23rd, 2023. But on January 12th, just two weeks after its release, Netflix abruptly pulled the movie from its platform both in India and worldwide.

The removal came after Hindu activist Ramesh Solanki filed a police complaint stating the film mockingly depicted Hindu gods consuming non-vegetarian food, which hurt Hindu sentiments. He argued this intentional mockery should not be allowed.

In response, the production company behind ‘Annapoorani’ quickly apologized to a Hindu right-wing group for having “hurt the religious sentiments of the Hindus and Brahmins community.” This rapid capitulation demonstrated these groups’ growing clout over streaming content.

Film Passed India’s Censor Board Uncut

Ironically, ‘Annapoorani‘ had passed through India’s Central Board of Film Certification uncut despite touching on sensitive topics like caste divides, food taboos, and interfaith relations. The censor board did not find anything in the film objectionable enough to edit or remove.

Writer-director Nilesh Krishnaa tried to anticipatorily avoid offending Hindu sensitivities on controversial issues. But the unilateral removal by Netflix itself shows streaming platforms are now informally self-censoring, even beyond legal requirements.

Hindu Right Wing Aims to Control Depictions of Indian Society

Religious food taboos, interfaith relationships, and caste inequities have become increasingly controversial subjects under the Hindu nationalist BJP government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi over the past decade.

Groups affiliated with Modi’s ruling party have become much more vocal in demanding that films, shows and other content do not contradict Hindu beliefs or values as defined by them. Any perceived insult to Hinduism is met with calls for bans, boycotts, and even physical attacks.

While Netflix did not cite a reason for pulling ‘Annapoorani’, the film’s sensitive themes likely led the platform to preempt Hindu right-wing opposition. 

However, the removal suppressed dissenting perspectives from parts of India with very different food habits and politics than the Hindi-speaking Hindu belt.

Documentaries Also Face Pressure from Hindu Right Wing

Beyond movies, Hindu nationalists also target documentaries exploring controversial social issues like caste discrimination, religious violence, and the Modi government’s policies.

Acclaimed recent documentaries like ‘Writing with Fire’, ‘All That Breathes’, and ‘While We Watched’ subtly critique rising Hindu majoritarianism. However, they struggle to find audiences within India due to intimidation and distribution hurdles.

Film programmer Thom Powers noted these docs first gain traction abroad, while Indians access bootlegged versions. Paid streaming sites avoid hosting them. Filmmakers fear blacklisting if they challenge Hindutva perspectives.

The Modi government aims to regulate online content through proposed rules like the Digital India Act. But streaming platforms are not waiting for legal force and have already grown wary of provoking Hindu nationalists.

Given past protests, vandalism, and vitriol against movies deemed anti-Hindu, Netflix prefers preemptive self-censorship to face backlash. But this allows fringe Hindu voices to dictate what content 1.4 billion diverse Indians can watch on global platforms.

Removal of Annapoorani Shows Hindu Groups’ Veto Power over Content

The removal of a small innocuous film like ‘Annapoorani’ may not seem overly alarming in isolation. But it represents a growing veto power and “heckler’s veto” by Hindu right-wingers over all streaming entertainment content.

Whether through official policies or self-censorship, their narrow interpretations of what constitutes offensive, inaccurate, or anti-national content now decide what Indians watch. But creativity and dissent get stifled without checks.

The unilateral suppression of ‘Annapoorani’ by Netflix sets a dangerous precedent and slippery slope. As government regulation of online content looms, streaming platforms must develop nuanced policies balancing creative freedoms with local sensitivities.

The path of least resistance – simply pulling any accused content – may keep Hindu groups appeased. But it will make streaming platforms agents of repression rather than liberation.

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