Gujarat High Court stays release of Hindi film ‘Maharaj’

The Gujarat High Court on Thursday stayed the release of the Hindi-language film Maharaj and also issued notices to its production company Yash Raj Films and the streaming platform Netflix, The Indian Express reported.

The film, directed by Siddharth P Malhotra and starring actor Aamir Khan’s son Junaid Khan in his debut role, was set to premiere on Netflix on Friday. It is based on the 1862 Maharaj libel case.

The premise of the film is the 1862 trial in a case that had been filed by Vaishnavite religious leader Jadunathji against social reformer Karsandas Mulji. In an article in Satyaprakash, which was a Gujarati weekly circulated in Bombay, Mulji had brought to light the alleged sexual liaisons of Jadunathji with his female devotees. The case was eventually dismissed by two British judges of the Supreme Court of Bombay.

On Thursday, Justice Sangeeta Vishen temporarily restrained the film after hearing a petition filed by followers of the Vaishnavite Pustimargi sect, who identify themselves as devotees of the deity Krishna.

According to the petitioners, excerpts of the film contained “scandalous and defamatory language, which affects the Pustimargi sect as a whole”, The Indian Express reported.

The film’s release was “likely to incite feelings of hatred and violence” against the group, the petition said, adding that this would be in breach of the code of ethics under the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021.

The rules aim to regulate intermediaries – which include social media websites, internet service providers and online marketplaces – as well as digital media publishers, which would include news websites and streaming services such as Netflix.

The petition said that a request submitted by another body in April for a private screening of the film or the issuance of a clarification was denied by Yash Raj Films and Netflix.

This “refusal strengthens the apprehension on the part of the petitioners”, it said, adding that adverse inferences could be drawn on account of the “secrecy” maintained by the respondents.

The petition also noted that no decision had been taken on another representation made to an authorised officer under the Information Technology Act for the blocking of the release of the film.

Apart from Yash Raj Films and Netflix, the court on Thursday also issued a notice to the Central Board of Certification and the Union Ministry of Information and Broadcasting.

It listed the matter for further hearing on June 18.

The development came on the same day that the Supreme Court stayed the theatrical release of another film, Hamare Baarah, which has been accused of containing anti-Muslim tropes.

Hamare Baarah, directed by Kamal Chandra, was also to be released on Friday.

The petition against the film had alleged that it was derogatory to the Islamic faith and married Muslim women in India, adding that the trailer also misquoted a verse in the Quran.

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