YRF’s ‘Maharaj’ doesn’t drop on Netflix after Gujarat HC stays release

PTI, Jun 14, 2024, 6:20 PM IST

New Delhi: YRF Entertainment’s “Maharaj” did not premiere on Netflix on Friday as scheduled after the Gujarat High Court stayed its release following a petition by members of a Hindu sect who claimed the film would hurt their religious sentiments.

The film, in which Aamir Khan’s son Junaid Khan makes his debut, caught the attention of social media users on Wednesday with hashtags such as “Boycott Netflix” and “Ban Maharaj Film” trending on X. On Thursday, Aamir Khan was also trending on the social media platform.

Responding to a petition by members of Pushtimarg, a Vaishnava sect of Hinduism, the Gujarat High Court stayed the film’s release on Thursday. A single-judge bench of Justice Sangeeta Vishen passed the order against the film and issued notices to the Centre, Netflix and Yash Raj Films. The court has posted the matter for further hearing on June 18.

According to a trade source in the industry, YRF and Netflix are challenging the stay order.

“YRF and Netflix are challenging the stay order. The matter is in court. Maharaj is based on a real-life case. It is adapted from Saurabh Shah’s book titled ‘Maharaj’. The author has also come out to say that the film does not vilify the Vaishnav community or the religion.

“It is about a social reformer who brought about a positive change in society. The makers are hopeful for a positive outcome on this,” the trade source said.

Directed by Siddharth P Malhotra and produced by Aditya Chopra under YRF Entertainment, the movie also stars Jaideep Ahlawat. And most unlike a mainstream film launching a star son, there were no trailers or teasers, barring a poster featuring Jaideep and Junaid.

The poster shows the two actors seen standing side by side with Jaideep’s character sporting a ’tilak’ on his forehead while Junaid’s character, a journalist, is dressed in a waistcoat.

Though Netflix and YRF haven’t officially commented on the controversy surrounding the movie, they sent a joint press note to news outlets.

“We kindly request you to HOLD on publishing your reviews for the film ‘Maharaj’ online, in print or on any social media platforms, given the ongoing proceedings… Thank you for your support and patience. Sincerely, Team Netflix and YRF,” the note read.

According to a press release issued by Netflix last month, “Maharaj” is set in pre-independent India and is based on the Maharaj Libel Case of 1862, which was ignited by “allegations of misconduct by a prominent figure”. It follows Karsandas Mulji, a journalist and social reformer, who was a pioneering advocate for women’s rights and social reform.

“… the case garnered widespread attention and scrutiny, setting the stage for what many consider to be one of the most significant legal battles of all time,” the streamer said.

The petitioners claimed before the Gujarat High Court their religious sentiments would be “seriously hurt” if the movie is permitted to be released, and it is likely to affect public order and incite violence against followers of the sect.

They pointed out that the British-era court, which had decided the libel case, “castigates the Hindu religion and makes seriously blasphemous comments against Lord Krishna as well as the devotional songs and hymns”.

The libel case was centred on a clash between a Vaishnavite religious leader and social reformer Mulji, who, in an article in a Gujarati weekly, alleged that the godman had sexual liaisons with his female devotees.

The petitioners argued that the movie was sought to be released in a secretive manner without a trailer or promotional events to avoid any access to the storyline.

VHP leader Sadhvi Prachi was one of the many X users who called for a ban on “Maharaj”.

“Won’t tolerate the disrespect of Sanatan Dharma (Sanatan Dharma ka apmaan sehen nahin karenge). Ban Maharaj Film. #BoycottNetflix,” Prachi wrote on the microblogging site.

Until when “Hindu saints” will continue to be insulted in films, asked another X user.

Another alleged that Aamir was launching his son in a “Hindumisic movie creating a false image of Sadhus and the Vallabh Sampradaya, by quoting an incident during the British regime (sic)”.

One X user also spoke of double standards when it comes to movies on Hinduism and Islam.

“Since the film is ‘Maharaj’… it’s on your gods and goddesses and religion, you are calling for a boycott. When it’s about the other community, there is an attempt to sell as much hate as possible through films,” the user said, referring to controversial movies such as “72 Hoorain” and “Hamare Barah”.

The Supreme Court on Thursday stayed the June 14 release of Annu Kapoor’s movie “Hamare Baarah” after taking note of allegations that the film is derogatory to the Islamic faith and married Muslim women. The film had undergone a title change (it was earlier called “Hum Do Humare Baraah”) in accordance with a directive by the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC).

The boycott calls for “Maharaj” recalled the controversy around Aamir’s film 2022 film “Laal Singh Chaddha”, which also faced boycott calls over the superstar’s 2015 comments that he was alarmed by a number of incidents of growing intolerance in India.

Earlier this year, Nayanthara-starrer “Annapoorani” was pulled down from Netflix after some viewers said it hurt religious sentiments. The actor also issued an apology on social media.

“Maharaj” also stars Shalini Pandey with Sharvari in a special appearance. The film is part of the multi-year creative partnership between Netflix and Yash Raj Films’ digital arm YRF Entertainment.

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