The Delhi High Court declined to grant interim stay on airing Vir Das’s Hasmukh on Netflix. It dismissed the plea that claimed, the fictional series defamed the reputation of advocates, moved by lawyer Ashutosh Dubey. The main petition seeking a permanent injunction on the airing of the show is pending; listed for hearing in July.
Claims by the Petitioner
The plaintiff claimed that episode 4 of Hasmukh featured a derogatory statement for lawyers; wherein lawyers termed as thieves, scoundrels, goons and rapists.
‘This is the first city I have seen where even the thieves are rich. But out here, they’re called lawyers. Your lawyers are the biggest scoundrels and thieves. These so-called upholders of law will never be brought to justice because they rape you with their pen. People say the law is blind. But I say the law is dirty because every lawyer carries a little stick in his hand, ‘ – The statement in the show.
Besides seeking to stop the airing of the show; the plaintiff also sought instructions to the producers, directors, and writer to “tender unconditional apology online for maligning the image of the lawyers’ community, which includes judges too as they too were lawyers at one point of time.”
Arguments by the Respondents for the Series
Advocate Saikrishna Rajagopal represented Netflix. He said an injunction on the show is against the freedom of speech and expression guaranteed under the Constitution. Rajagopal argued that there are several judgments that say lawyers as a class cannot be defamed.
If the court grants an injunction; then it will open the floodgates to defamation litigation by “so-called class of persons; including chartered accounts, engineers, doctors, IAS officers, police officers; who may not agree with any cinematic or theatrical portrayal of their class.” Netflix further contended that allowing the suit would “sound the death knell for parodies and satire” which rely on making people laugh through critical comments on the state of affairs in society.
It added that the web series is a work of fiction; the statements the characters made in it are only imaginary and humorous and not a matter of truth.
Decision of the Court
‘The very essence of democracy is that a creative artist is given the liberty; to project the picture of the society in a manner he perceives. One of the prime forms of exposing the ills of the society is by portraying a satirical picture of the same. Stand-up comedians perform that very purpose. In their portrayal, they use satire and exaggerate the ills to an extent that it becomes ridicule. In the humorous portrayal of the ills of the society the stand-up comedians use satire,‘ the court observed while denying the injunction. Accordingly, Justice Sanjeev Sachdeva dismissed the application.
Meanwhile, Hasmukh is a dark comedy. Interestingly, the protagonist cannot perform on stage without murdering someone. The protagonist, in each episode of the show; murders professionals from various facets of life who have committed some wrong. Then performs a stand-up act on such people.