Netflix Finally Releasing Bad Boy Billionaires is a Small Victory for Freedom of Speech in India

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Netflix Finally Releasing Bad Boy Billionaires is a Small Victory for Freedom of Speech in India

Illustration: Reynold Mascarenhas

Netflix has had the ultimate Indian experience, from troll armies trending hashtags to boycott the platform to legal battles to prevent certain content from airing. However, in India, one needs to find a way around the maze, and it seems like Netflix has managed to do that with its controversial docu-series Bad Boy Billionaires.After a month of legal tussle, the world’s largest streaming service has finally released the series which showcases alleged fraud committed by business tycoons such as Vijay Mallya, Nirav Modi, and Sahara India chief Subrata Roy. The episode on Satyam Computer Services founder B Ramalinga Raju has been held for now.

Bad Boy Billionaires was set to originally release on September 2 but it hit legal barriers after Mehul Choksi, Subrata Roy, and Ramalinga Raju approached the courts seeking a stay on the series saying it would affect their trials. A court in Bihar’s Araria district on Saturday vacated the stay it had imposed on the release of the series in September. Raju’s matter is still said to be pending in a Hyderabad court, and thus, the episode on him has not yet been released.

A lower court in Araria had asked Netflix to not use Roy’s name after he had claimed that the series was an attempt to tarnish his image. Choksi, a citizen of Antigua and Barbuda in the Caribbean islands, also made a similar argument through his lawyers, stating that his reputation would suffer and there are cases pending against him. Appearing in the film, Vijay Mallya’s son Siddharth Mallya has claimed that his father is a “political pawn” as “the government needs a man to make an example of”.

The Delhi High Court dismissed Choksi’s plea and asked the Centre to regulate digital content. Netflix had defended the allegations saying the Indian government does not regulate content on OTT platforms. The Centre refused to intervene in the matter. The streaming giant also made a case for freedom of speech and expression, and argued that the series is a documentary, referring to facts, which are widely discussed in the public domain and aren’t sub-judice.

Canadian-Indian filmmaker Dylan Mohan Gray, who has directed the opening episode told Hindustan Times, “I am very happy that the series has finally been released. These films are very important in many ways—both in terms of showing the legal aspect and the fact that Indians will see powerful figures whose stories can be told without them having control over it. I think it’s a very important landmark for freedom of expression in India and all kinds of filmmaking in India.”

Early reviews from those who quickly binged the show (before it gets taken down again?) have been promising.

Some believe there are also business lessons to be learned from the series.

The irony of international media players telling the best Indian stories.

The release of Bad Boy Billionaires is a minor victory for freedom of expression (and Netflix and Chill fans in India). One hopes that the episode on Ramalinga Raju also clears the legal hurdles, for it is important that the public has access to information relating to these alleged financial frauds that affected everyone’s lives directly or indirectly. It is rare that films capture stories of powerful figures in an honest manner, and it would be a great disservice to not let the public have a chance to view it and make up their own minds.

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