Delhi HC dismisses stay on streaming of Netflix’s ‘Hasmukh’

The Delhi High Court has dissolved a plea seeking an ad-interim order restraining the streaming of the episodes of the Netflix web series Hasmukh. The charge against the series was filed by lawyer Ashutosh Dubey, who demanded that its fourth episode contained derogatory remarks against the lawyer community. Hasmukh stars Vir Das in the titular role and is a dark comedy thriller revolving around the fictional character, an aspiring comedian who possesses a unique compulsion to kill people just before his on-stage stand-up act, which enables him to give a great performance and specifically relates his stand-up comedy act to the person he killed. Dubey took objection to the utterance of the protagonist referring lawyers as thieves, scoundrels, goons and rapists. “Statements (in the series) are highly disparaging, defamatory and bring disrepute to the profession of law, and lawyers and advocates in the eyes of the general public,” he claimed. Netflix lawyers argued that the web series is a work of fiction and explained to the court its brief plot line. They said that a class of people cannot be defamed as a class, nor can an individual be defamed by general reference to a class to which the individual belongs. So, they argued, the lawyers as a community cannot be defamed as a “class of persons”, nor can the plaintiff be defamed by a general reference to lawyers. The defense lawyers also submitted that Article 19 (1) (a) of the Indian Constitution guarantees the freedom of speech and expression which includes the creative freedom to express one’s views and opinions and although the said right is not absolute since the present case would not qualify as defamation, it cannot be restricted. Dismissing the application for ad-interim injunction, the court stated that the impugned comment is satirical “with regard to the lawyers taken as a class and is not with regard to any determinate definite or identifiable group of lawyers. Further, if an ad interim injunction is granted, it would amount to interference in the freedom of speech and expression guaranteed by our constitution to the defendants.”  The very essence of democracy, observed the HC, 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 a ridicule. In the humorous portrayal of the ills of the society the stand-up comedians use satire.” Apart from Das, Hasmukh stars Ranvir Shorey, Amrita Bagchi, Manoj Pahwa, Ravi Kishan, Raza Murad and others. It has been produced and owned by Applause Entertainment. Applause Entertainment was represented by senior counsel Sandeep Sethi, briefed by a team from ANM Global comprising Nidhish Mehrotra, Anushree Rauta, Piyush Joshi and Chirag Luthria. 
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