Why has 'Paatal Lok' angered so many?

From touching upon sensitive issues like caste divisions in north India to using photograph of a BJP leader in one of the scenes, Anushka Sharma’s production seems to have rubbed many people the wrong way

The BJP may not have officially criticised the move of using its Uttar Pradesh MLA Nand Kishore Gurjar's picture without his permission in the popular web series 'Paatal Lok', the series' makers and producers are under increasing attack from different religious and caste quarters as well as leaders of the BJP and its allies.

First, Loni MLA Gurjar filed a police complaint against the show's producer Anushka Sharma and urged her husband Virat Kohli to divorce her for producing such content; and now, a BJP Delhi leader has filed a complaint, but with the National Minorities Commission.

Loni MLA Nand Kishor Gurjar has a serious charge to make. He says while his face was used in the web series, his standing next to a fictional villain Bajpayee, who is seen inaugurating a highway, is eerily similar to a 2018 photo where Gurjar is seen standing next to Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, cutting a ribbon. He not only made it a case of 'attack against 'Sanatan Dharma' but also termed it 'anti-national'.

However, what should worry the makers more is his invocation of an alleged attack on 'Gujjars'. Gujjars are a predominant caste in western Uttar Pradesh, being concentrated in areas like Greater Noida, Noida, Ghaziabad, Bijnor, Meerut, Baghpat, Shamli and Saharanpur. They constitute an estimated 7-10 percent of the population in Western UP, and that makes them a political capital to reckon with.

While his predominant opposition remains the unauthorised use of his face and a virtual rip-off from a photo with the current UP CM, he has also alleged that the Jats of Punjab, Brahmins and Tyagis too have been wrongfully portrayed and given impetus to caste difference. Together, this caste conglomerate has the political power to make themselves heard.

A Chandigarh-based body that goes by the name of 'Yuva Gurjar Mahasabha' has written to the top police official of Saharanpur district in Uttar Pradesh demanding Sharma to be booked under the stringent National Security Act. Its national chief Lokesh Gurjar complains: "Gurjar community is depicted in poor light in the web series 'Paatal Lok', where they are shown as robbers. In fact, Tyagis, Brahmins and Jaats too are portrayed in poor light."

Going on to mention the use of BJP's Loni MLA's face as well as distortion of the original photo of Yogi Adityanath, he alleged: "They have tried to malign the image of our Chief Minister and an MLA, through this web series."

If two leaders gunning for Anushka Sharma weren't enough indications that the makers of the web series are staring at a legal tangle and ever-increasing attacks, now BJP's ally 'Shiromani Akali Dal' too has jumped into the bandwagon. The party's national spokesman Majinder S Sirsa has sent a legal notice to Amazon Seller Services and the directors of 'Paatal Lok' for allegedly portraying Sikhs as rapists. Taking to Twitter, Sirsa posted the legal notice alleging that the controversial series is maligning the image of the community. He also urged Information and Broadcasting Minister Prakash Javadekar to intervene.

In a video message, Sirsa demanded that not only should action be initiated against such online platforms that give space for 'such shows' to be broadcast but also the concerned web series should be withdrawn 'with immediate effect'.

"Sikhs in India and all over the world are angry. If you don't listen to us, the Delhi Sikh Gurudwara committee will take the legal route," he said.

Jaspreet Singh Matta, the co-convenor of the Sikh Cell of BJP's Delhi unit, says he has also spoken to the Commission's Deputy Chairman Manjit Singh Rai over the matter as it also involves 'hurting religious sentiment of Hindus and Sikhs' alike. He was referring to a scene in 'Paatal Lok', where a Sikh man is shown raping a woman while an 'amritdhari' Sikh watches as a mute spectator. In Sikhism, Amritdhari Sikhs are baptised and must follow the Rahit Maryada, which is the Sikh code of conduct.

That is not all the trouble the web series producers are staring at. Matta has also filed a police complaint in Delhi's Mukherjee Nagar police station where he has demanded an FIR against Sharma under sections 153, 295A and 298 of the Indian Penal Code as well as sections of the IT Act. "This content has the potential to disrupt law and order situations all across the country," he warned.

In latest, people have objected to a scene where Sadhu (hermit) is shown consuming meat with the photo of a deity in the background.

The scene is from the last episode of the series and shows actor Rajesh Sharma (playing the role of Jwala Gujjar) eating mutton while a sadhu serves him bread.

People have been objecting to this and many other issues in the web series and are now demanding a ban on it. '#BoycottPaatalLok' has been trending on social media for some days now.

The series also managed to miff the Gorkha communities which had filed a complaint with NHRC against Anushka Sharma for 'racial stereotyping' in 'Patal Lok'. On May 18, the All Arunachal Pradesh Gorkha Youth Association took to Facebook to share a screengrab of their complaint along with a caption detailing how the alleged sexist and racial slur maligns their identity.

Additionally, the youth wing of the Bharatiya Gorkha Parisangh- Bharatiya Yuva Gorkha Parisangh, started an online campaign against the web series, alleging that in the second episode, a Nepali-speaking woman had been maligned by the maker and demanded that the slur to be muted, subtitles blurred and that the video be uploaded with an apology. The scene that slips in at 3:41 in the second episode witnesses a policewoman hurling at a character named Mary Lyngdoh.

If sources are to be believed, similar complaints from different quarters are only going to increase in the days to come, making the going tougher for Anushka Sharma and team 'Paatal Lok'. With the matter reaching police, the National Minorities Commission and I&B Ministry and a powerful caste cocktail at play, this is not the last you have heard in this matter.

'Would love to go for second season'

Despite all the controversies, 'Paatal Lok' is receiving appreciation from critics, fraternity and the public for the manner in which it explores issues of caste, religion and politics in India in a thriller format.

Anushka, who has produced the Amazon Prime Video show with her brother Karnesh via their banner Clean Slate Filmz, said the idea is to support stories in a non-judgmental way.

The actor said she is someone who has always taken risks in her career, something that she enjoys doing as a producer as well by backing projects like the gritty road thriller 'NH10', horror film 'Pari' and ghost comedy 'Phillauri' and now 'Paatal Lok'.

"I acknowledge that I have made a career and a name for myself, which is relevant. I want to be able to use the position that I've created with my hard work as an actor and be able to back the stories, people and talent," said Anushka.

In a previous interview, Anushka exclusively told a news agency that the team would love to go for the second season of 'Paatal Lok' if the streaming platform showed interest.

"I don't want to divulge too much but let's just say it's quite possible. It's too early to talk about it but yes if Amazon is willing to do it, definitely there will be a second season," she had said.

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