Image Source: Amazon Prime Video

The recently released Amazon Prime’s web-series Paatal Lok has made headlines for all the reasons, whether right or wrong, the fact is that they’re all there. With solid reviews that laud the brilliance of the show, as well as multiple complaints filed against the makers of the series, Paatal Lok is all but being ignored.

A down and out cop lands the case of a lifetime when four suspects are nabbed in the assassination attempt of a journalist. The pursuit of it leads him to ‘Paatal Lok’, and to shocking discoveries in the past of the four suspects. – IMDB description of the web series

Image Source: @anushkasharma, Instagram

With a 7.5 rating on IMDB, the brilliantly written show is set in the alleys of Delhi and ravines of Bundelkhand. Pataal Lok portrays the area of reprehensible crimes with profound scrutiny. The series delves into the twisted minds of criminals, making the viewers forget whether to hate the criminals or to understand their standpoints, objectively. Without overselling the abilities of a human, like most shows do and also while keeping the heinous images intact, the shows tries and finds success in portraying reality as it is, most critics have opined.

With critically advocated, promising film making, screen-writing, editing and directing, the show has landed into a pool of controversies with complaints ranging among using images of an MLA without consent, the ill portrayal of the Sikh community, and a scene containing a racist slur against the Nepali speaking community in India and whole of Nepal as a country.

A complaint from Sikkim has been filed recently on behalf of the Nepali speaking-Gurkha community. The complaint, which is yet to go down as a full-fledged F.I.R, G.D. Entry No. 120 under Soreng PS, dated 22/05/2020, is underway. The complainants are from Soreng West Sikkim, by advocates Bhawana Chhetri and Pramit Chettri.

The complaint was filed against the directors and producers of the Amazon Prime web series Paatal Lok and the prime allegations have been bestowed, as per the complaint filed, upon Anushka Sharma, Kamlesh Sharma, Manoj Mitra and Saurabh Singh who’ve produced the show, and Prosit Roy and Avinash Arun who’ve directed the show. The allegations have been put collectively upon the banner Clean Slate Films Pvt Ltd. Pramit informs that if there is a need in the future, any other accused persons might be added, ranging from actors to screenwriters.

“We have not named any one individual as the accused person since a show is produced by multiple creators, multiple producers and directors. So the intention to name these people is because they are the part and parcel of the production of Paatal Lok,” says Pramit.

Further, he adds, “There are confusions on whether the actors are implicated. We don’t want to imply actors because we don’t want to disrupt the creative freedom of the actors.”

Saying that there is no enmity towards the entire series, the lawyer makes it clear that it is the suffix that was added to Nepali, which is Randi (prostitute/whore).

“We just have a problem with that suffix; everyone knows that all the states are plagued with prostitution, and most, if not all communities have had people in this activity. For something that is done by most communities, it isn’t right to point out one community. …. In a time of crisis of this pandemic, when the North-East and in that the Gurkha-Nepali speaking-community is being racially discriminated, this representation creates a picture in front of the whole audiences of one particular community that this community is involved in such activity,” says Pramit.

According to the lawyer, this kind of misrepresentation, racial profiling, and denouncement of professions, etc., of the Nepali/ Nepali speaking community has been casually portrayed in the mainstream Indian entertainment. Giving an example of Flipkart, a company who publicly apologized for their misrepresenting an advertisement of the Nepali community, he says that the main objective of filing the complaint was for an investigation, followed by a case that clarifies whether propagating these kinds of derogatory remarks are a violation of law or not, and an apology by the creators towards the whole community.

“We surely deem all of this derogatory, and we have mentioned the provisions in the last paragraph of the complaint, and we just want to clarify if the remark is derogatory or not. First, we want an investigation of the matter under the provisions mentioned, second, to at least interrogate the accused to find out what their actual intention was and why Nepali speaking community was included, and then the omission of the subtitles and remarks, with an apology,” says Pramit.

He then adds on the most important thing, “There are multitudes of films released in India day after day, and the film is certified by the Censor Board. However, nobody has not scrutinized the activities and content of these web-series. There are no statutory or regulatory bodies that reins these web series.”

“In the absence of the regulatory bodies, in the name of creation, there has been multiple obscene, violent, and derogatory content that surface. The main reason to file this complaint is also to incite a creation of such a body for web-series, who screen the films/series on these platforms and then take down, or censor the derogatory remarks, so no community has to be hurt or has to suffer in the future,” he concludes.

Paatal Lok, according to the critics, has a semblance of Leftist agenda that serves its propaganda through art, which is the series itself.

“The writers have consciously kept Delhi mostly as a city of migrants from smaller towns in the Hindi belt. When harsh surroundings get better of them, they turn to crime for survival, and all this seems neutral and natural. For example, the two kids who meet on a train and remain there for each other through thick and thin is a case study in itself. The casual attitude with which they see through sexual and mental abuses breaks the heart.”- Review on NEWS 18

The series has certainly divided people in terms of being offended, even in the Nepali speaking community. With some taking the remark as derogatory against a whole community, some only see it as a representation of things as they are and not how they should be, liberalising the whole standpoint of the narrative of boundary on art and representation.

A writer, Shiori, who is of Sikkimese descent, wrote a blog on why she is not offended by Pataal Lok. Sikkim Chronicle spoke to her to get a clearer viewpoint on this side of the spectrum, of other people Nepali speaking Gurkha community who do not find the remark offensive.

“It is so simple for me, it is for the first time when Indian creators and writers come up with a story which is so original. The creativity that I am talking about, taking the same subject of the Police brutality, ignorance, politics and dominance, which have been portrayed in many cases, has been fresh. When you look at the series, understand that this is a story, a fiction,” says Shiori.

She adds, “When they used the remark of Nepali whore, that is so crucial to that particular scene, we have to be very realistic in the sense that, if, for example, I (a part of the Nepali community), I do something illegal in cities like Delhi or Mumbai and get into trouble with the cops. I’ll be taken to the PS, and the first thing I’ll be asked is if I am involved in prostitution because of my features, that is the reality (of today), whether you accept it or not.”

“If you look at that scene properly, it is setting up the grounds that the lady cop is not doing her job properly, it shows her laziness and ignorance and that she is not at all fit to be a cop. Those are the loud images that the creators were trying to show saying these are the deplorable conditions in India,” she opines.

It is only fair that there is a division of opinions in any matter, this difference in opinions and working around these differences is the foundation of any good democracy. There have been countless Nepali movies, series, music videos and advertisements that casually and seriously have shown the human trafficking business. In the said content, the narrative usually is a man from Nepal wooing a pretty village girl, and marrying her. After marriage, she is taken to India and the husband sells her to a brothel. The Nepali speaking community has seen and heard this narrative thousand times over, and it speaks volumes of how in the present time, that reprehensible act has stemmed into demonization over time.

“They (the creators) are not targeting the Nepali community in any-way they are just showing the reality, and secondly this scene was mostly a precedent to a larger plot point if you watch the show carefully. There are other instances of racial ignorance, but that has been deliberately portrayed as the innocence of kids, showing political correctness don’t matter to kids,” Shiori opines.

“When someone is coming up with something realistic and believable why are you having a problem with one comment? If you are offended don’t watch the show, it is that simple. This way if we get oversensitive we will curb everyone’s creativity, why gang up if that is one opinion. I am not saying that there is no racism, I have lived in three different cities in 10 years and I have faced the worst kind of racism incidents, I’ve faced humiliating racism where I had to come home and cry,” she adds.

“There is a situation right now, with the pandemic and with racism against people with mongoloid features. Instead of waiting for somebody to make a mistake, and then raise the issue, if one is so bothered they should’ve already been raising the issue before it. This just doesn’t make sense to me,” she opines.

It is critical in a democracy that people voice their opinions and as a medium to the people, this line is being drawn to facilitate a tool for individuals to form their own opinions. In this case of the remark, it is seen that there is a clear division of opinions and from a standpoint both the arguments hold water.

“It’s not about that I am right and people who think like me are right, and they (people who think that the remark was a racial slur) are wrong, it is not like that. We get where the sentiment is coming from, but watch the whole show without prejudice and see in what context everything is said and then comment. They are not wrong in any way, I get the sentiment, but you don’t have to go the extra mile,” says Shiori.

“Right issue to get offended over, a vacillating platform to have arguments and debates on, but the wrong target to blame,” she concludes.

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