Netflix has found itself at the center of a heated debate in India. The streaming giant faced severe backlash from right-wing Hindu groups, leading to the withdrawal of the film "Annapoorani: the Goddess of Food." This movie, originating from Tamil Nadu, Southern India, became a point of contention for its portrayal of a young Brahmin woman's culinary ambitions, including scenes of her cooking and consuming meat, a practice traditionally abstinent among Brahmins.
"Annapoorani" delves into the story of a privileged Brahmin girl, aspiring to be a celebrated chef, a stark contrast to her father's role as a cook in a Hindu temple. The film's depiction of the protagonist engaging in meat consumption sparked significant controversy, considering the strict vegetarian lifestyle typically followed by Brahmins, who are often priests and revered figures in Hindu society.
Adding to the controversy, the film was also criticized for its portrayal of the Hindu deity Lord Ram, suggesting he consumed meat during his exile. This depiction, alongside allegations of promoting "love jihad" - a controversial theory among Hindu right-wingers about Muslims deceiving Hindus into marriage for conversion - fueled the protests.
The Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), a prominent right-wing Hindu organization with connections to the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), initiated protests on Wednesday. They accused the film of intentionally offending Hindu sentiments.
Following a robust online campaign, VHP's protests soon escalated, including demonstrations outside Netflix's offices. This unrest prompted legal action against the film's creators by members of other Hindu fringe groups.
Zee Issues Apology, Withdraws Film
By Thursday, Zee Entertainment, co-producers of "Annapoorani," issued a public apology.
They confirmed the film's withdrawal from global Netflix platforms for re-editing to eliminate the contentious scenes. In their statement, Zee Entertainment expressed regret for any distress caused to Hindu and Brahmin communities.
This incident highlights the growing influence of right-wing Hindu groups in India's cultural and political domains, especially since the BJP's rise to power. Similar situations have unfolded in the past, with platforms like Amazon and Netflix, and even Bollywood, facing protests and accusations of religious insensitivity.
Notably, Amazon's "Tandav" and Netflix's "A Suitable Boy" adaptation stirred similar controversies. Indian actress Parvathy Thiruvothu criticized the removal of "Annapoorani," warning of a worrisome trend towards excessive censorship in the industry. Meanwhile, VHP spokesperson Vinod Bansal hailed the film's withdrawal as a victory for Hindus.