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Essence of democracy is the liberty given to an artist: Delhi HC refuses to stay streaming of webseries ‘Hasmukh’ on Netflix

Aditi Singh

The Delhi High Court today refused to stay the streaming of webseries ‘Hasmukh’ on Netflix. (Ashutosh Dubey vs Netflix)

The application seeking an interim stay on the streaming of Hasmukh episodes, especially episode 4 of Season 1, titled “Bambai Main Bambu” which allegedly makes disparaging comments against lawyers, was dismissed by a single judge bench of Justice Sanjeev Sachdeva.

While refusing to grant the interim injunction, the Court observed,

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 a ridicule. In the humorous portrayal of the ills of the society the stand-up comedians use satire.
Delhi High Court

The application was part of the suit preferred by Advocate Ashutosh Dubey. Summons in the suit were issued by the Court last month.

The Plaintiff’s grievance was directed against one of the episodes in which the protagonist called lawyers as thieves, scoundrel, goons and rapists.

He thus moved the High Court to restrain Netflix from airing/streaming the episodes of webseries ‘Hasmukh’ on the ground that such statements were highly disparaging, defamatory and brought disrepute to the law profession and advocates in the eyes of the general public.

Dubey asserted that the statements were scandalous and made aspersions on the entire lawyer community.

In his suit before the Court, Dubey has not only sought to restrain the streaming of Hasmukh but has also asked for an unconditional apology.

In response to the prayer for an interim injunction, the Defendants argued that Dubey had failed to show any prima facie case or any personal injury or violation of any right.

It was added that a class of persons could not be defamed as a class, nor could an individual be defamed by general reference to a class to which the individual belonged.

The Defendants submitted that the series was a work of fiction and statements made by the characters were meant to be taken in the context of a figment of imagination and humour and not as a matter of truth.

In view of the submissions, the Court opined that the impugned content was a satirical comment with regard to the lawyers taken as a class and was not with regard to any determinate definite or identifiable group of lawyers.

It further observed,

In the episode in question the protagonist makes the impugned comment after facing a personal experience with a dishonest greedy lawyer. Having experienced an immoral character, the protagonist thereafter, while performing on the stage as a stand-up comedian makes a satirical comment about the lawyers in general..It is a known fact that a stand-up comedian to highlight a particular point exaggerates the same to an extent that it becomes a satire and a comedy. People do not view the comments or jokes made by stand-up comedians as statements of truth but take them with a pinch of salt with the understanding that it is an exaggeration for the purposes of exposing certain ills or shortcomings.
Delhi High Court

Explaining that satire involved ridiculing its subject through the use of techniques like as exaggeration, the Court remarked that granting an ad-interim injunction would amount to interference in the freedom of speech and expression guaranteed by our Constitution to the Defendants.

It was also recorded that Dubey had not been able to show that the impugned comment in any manner refered to him or to a definite group of individuals or lawyers out of the entire class of lawyers to which he belonged.

The Court ultimately concluded that the Plaintiff, Ashutosh Dubey, had not been able to show that the existence of a prime facie case in his favour for issuance of an ad interim injunction.

The application was thus dismissed.

Plaintiff, Ashutosh Dubey, appeared in person.

Senior Advocate Amit Sibal appeared for Netflix along with Advocates Saikrishna Rajagopal, Thomas George, Tanvi Sinha, and Manas Gaur.

Applause Entertainment Pvt. Ltd was represented by Senior Advocate Sandeep Sethi, who was briefed by Advocates Nidhish Mehrotra, Anushree Rauta, Piyush Joshi and Chirag Luthria of ANM Global.

Emmay Entertainment, Nikhil Gonsalves and Nikkhil Adani were represented by a team from Desai & Partners comprising Advocates Hiren Kamod, Ami Desai and Surekha Srinivasan.

Vir Das was represented by a team from Anand & Anand & Khimani headed by Priyanka Khimani, along with Abhineet Pange, Chaitrika Patki, and Preeta Panthaki.

Read the Order:

Ashutosh Dubey vs Netflix and ors.pdf
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