Police in Mumbai have registered a case against a number of Bollywood stars on obscenity charges over the staging of the All India Bakchod (AIB) comedy ‘roast’ of actors Arjun Kapoor and Ranveer Singh.
In news that will spark further debate about freedom of expression in India, police officials said actress Deepika Padukone and mega-director Karan Johar were among those named in the case.
Johar had been the host of AIB’s Knockout program on YouTube whilst Ms Padukone – the rumoured flame of Singh – was in the audience.
The program had caused offence in some circles for its language and inuendo before it was pulled off YouTube by AIB.
Police will now investigate the group — as part of the “first information report” or FIR filed — including for criminal conspiracy, obscene acts and songs, and words or gestures intended to insult a woman’s modesty.
“The FIR is registered against 14 accused at Tardeo police station,” Deputy Commissioner of Police Dhananjay Kulkarni, spokesman for the Mumbai force, told AFP, listing the various organisers and participants accused.
Aside from Kapoor and Singh, the show had comically insulted several Bollywood actors in front of a large audience strewn with celebrities in a format common in Western countries but rarely seen in India.
Both Kapoor and Singh have also been named in the FIR. Among the charges is one against a song with the Hindi word for penis substituting some lyrics.
A video attracted more than eight million hits in just a few days when it was uploaded on YouTube late last month, but it sparked a fierce backlash.
Religious groups urged police to file charges against the producers, and the right-wing government of Maharashtra state, of which Mumbai is the capital, ordered an investigation.
Earlier this month, the producers said they were pulling the video for “pragmatic” reasons, but added that India needed to confront the fact that freedom of expression was being curtailed.
The “roast” sparked a storm on social media, with a member of India’s powerful censor board slamming it on Twitter as “a porn show on stage”.
But hundreds of supporters including Bollywood actors and producers also hit back, urging the right to freedom of speech.
India’s hardline groups often urge authorities to act against authors and artists whose works they consider insulting to their religion or against society’s perceived morals.
Acclaimed Tamil-language author Perumal Murugan announced last month he was quitting writing altogether following protests by right-wing Hindu and caste groups over one of his books.
British author Salman Rushdie, whose novel “The Satanic Verses” is seen as blasphemous by some Muslims, is still banned in India.