Netflix’s Docu-Series titled “Bad Boy Billionaires: India” which was slated to be released on 2nd September 2020 has been put on hold from releasing on the OTT platform. This comes after local Courts in Hyderabad as well as in Bihar put a hold on its release.
The upcoming show is based on the life of four infamous Indian billionaires- liquor tycoon Vijay Mallya, diamond merchant Nirav Modi, the founder and former head of Satyam Computer Services Ramalinga Raju, and Sahara Group’s Subrata Roy. Description of the show on Netflix states “This investigative docuseries explores the greed, fraud, and corruption that built up — and ultimately brought down — India’s most infamous tycoons.”
Suit by Ramalinga Raju
By Raju Ramalinga Raju is the former Chairman and CEO of Satyam Computer Services. He was one of the accused in Satyam Fraud and stepped down following his admission to embezzlement from the company. He filed a suit before a local Hyderabad Court against the show on the ground that it would unlawfully invade his privacy. He also contended that if the show is allowed to be released, it would amount to media trial, thus infringing his right to a fair trial under Article 21 of the Constitution of India. Further, it was submitted that the series was filled with “half-truths” and amounts to defamation and thus, would tarnish his image across nations.
The Court held that Raju had the case in his favor as cases are still pending against him. He was portrayed as a fraudster in the docuseries while the allegations against him have still not been proved. Therefore, the court granted an interim injunction restraining the platform from releasing the docuseries.
Suit by Subrata Roy
Subrata Roy was the Managing Worker and Chairman of Sahara India Pariwar, an Indian conglomerate with diversified businesses and assets. He was arrested in February 2014 in connection to a legal dispute with the Securities Exchange Board of India (SEBI) about the repayment of Rs.25,000 Crore to its investors. Sahara Group filed an injunction suit at Araria, Bihar against Netflix to prevent them from airing the show on its platform. They alleged that it is not only defamatory but also infringes on the privacy and trademark of their company. Sahara has also filed a criminal complaint against Netflix and its directors Abhishek Nag, Reginald Shawn Thompson, Neha Sinha, and the producer’s Nick Read, Reva Sharma, and Iqbal Kidwai, for committing various criminal offenses under the Information Technology Act 2000, the Indian Penal Code and the Trademarks Act.
The court, in its order, observed that the tripartite test, i.e., of prima facie case, the balance of convenience and irreparable loss had been established by the plaintiff. Therefore, the court passed an order restricting Netflix and its producers, directors, employees, officers, and associates, etc. from releasing, transmitting, distributing, exhibiting, performing, or communicating to the public, the promo and the documentary series “Bad Boy Billionaires” by any means or technology using Subrata Roy’s name.
Nirav Modi and Vijay Mallya
Nirav Modi is an Indian jeweler who was the prime accused in Rs. 11,000 Crore Punjab National Bank Scam. He left the Country before any criminal case could be lodged against him and took political asylum in Britain.
Vijay Mallya is an Indian businessman and former Member of Parliament. He was the founder and owner of the defunct Kingfisher Airlines, apart from several other business undertakings. He is the accused in several charges including money laundering and financial fraud amounting to Rs. 9,000 Crore. He left the country and went to the UK before petitions could be made to prevent him from leaving the country.
Both Modi and Mallya have been declared a ‘fugitive’ under the Fugitive Economic Offender (FEO) Act, 2018. According to Section 14 of the Act, any court or tribunal may disallow a person who has been declared a fugitive from putting forward or defending any civil claim.
Petition by Mehul Choksi
Mehul Choksi is an Indian businessman and a fugitive, who is also the accused in the PNB scam. He is the owner of Gitanjali Group, a retail jewelry company.
Choksi moved the Delhi High Court against Netflix as he has been featured in the series. He alleged that he has a right to presumption of innocence and a free and fair trial according to Article 21 of the Constitution of India. Therefore, he asked the Court to direct the OTT giant to show him the series before its release.
The Court asked the Counsel for Netflix to explore the possibility and the matter was adjourned.
Netflix moves to the Supreme Court
The OTT platform filed a petition by special leave in the Supreme Court against the orders by the Bihar Court restraining them from airing the show. However, the court refused to entertain the plea and did not grant a stay on the orders of the local court. The bench directed them to Patna High Court instead and said that this is not the appropriate forum to come to against the order of a lower court.
Netflix had also filed a petition asking the court to transfer all cases relating to the matter to a Bombay High Court, to which the court agreed and issued notices.
Indian Filmmakers offer support to Netflix
Indian filmmakers have come out in defense of the Director of the series- Dylan Mohan Gray, who had previously expressed his displeasure on the stay via a series of tweets.
Hansal Mehta tweeted- “There you go. This is no country for true stories. Dear @NetflixIndia please fight this violation. All of us trying to tell true stories need your fight. These stories must be told. Nobody here has the gumption for a necessary battle.”
While Anubhav Sinha tweeted- “I don’t get it. Newspapers can write about it. TV News (or whatever) can show it. Portals can but Cinema can’t. What’s this hypocrisy???? It happened. Right? Or you’re saying it didn’t???”
Samantha Subramanian, a journalist based in London, who is one of the talking heads in Bad Boy Billionaires, told VICE News that, “I deplore this attempt to muzzle the release of this Netflix docu-series.” He further said that “The documentaries are based on material that emerged in the public domain through the trial process.”
Ayesha Sood, an Indian documentary filmmaker who co-founded the production house The Jamun Collective also told VICE News that “It feels like a matter of forced censorship, and sets a bad precedent.”
Regulation of OTT Platforms in India
With the onset of the Pandemic, all things have been brought to a standstill and people have been locked up inside their homes because of the lockdowns. This has led to a fundamental transformation in the film industry as the films are being released on the OTT platforms instead of the cinema halls. The comfort of one’s home has replaced the house full of cinema halls.
But, this gradual shift to OTT platforms, has raised a lot of concerns over the regulation of content on these platforms. There are no particular rules or policies established by the government for regulation of these platforms, however, it has asked the platforms to regulate themselves.
Following these directions, a self-regulation code, i.e., ‘Universal Self-Regulation Code for OCCPs (Online Curated Content Providers)’ has been signed by 15 of the leading OTT platforms in India, like Netflix. Amazon Prime, Disney+ Hotstar, Zee5, ALT Balaji, etc.