Towards the end of last year — 2018 — Netflix released a three-part horror-drama series, Ghoul, starring Radhika Apte. The show immediately struck a chord with the audience, given that horror is such a genre.
What worked more in favour of the show though were all the memes around Radhika Apte that were taking over the Internet back then. ‘Is Radhika on a Netflix payroll’ was the question — with Lust Stories, Ghoul and Sacred Games, all starring Radhika, kind of forcing you to Netflix and chill, with Radhika.
Netflix India, known for their snappy, snazzy social media comeback, released this statement:
Whatever the role, Radhika apt hai. pic.twitter.com/H5vAI81qMG— Netflix India (@NetflixIndia) August 27, 2018
And then, they did this... for a brief period.
Very funny, Netflix. Really. (Photo: Instagram screenshot)
And then came this tweet.
Pad Man is now streaming and we're not just saying this because Radhika Apte is in it but yes Radhika Apte is in it.— Netflix India (@NetflixIndia) August 28, 2018
What was lost in the midst of all this hilarity was the seriousness of the show Ghoul — something that is to most, in hindsight, utterly Hindu-phobic.
But why are we discussing last year’s show today?
It is because Netflix today finds itself at the very same spot — but without Radhika Apte memes and their smart-alecky social media responses.
The show in question this time is the Huma Qureshi-starrer Leila.
This is a dystopian reality — one where ‘Aryavarta’ or purity is the only way of life. Deviants will be reoriented — or worse, punished with death. Huma is looking for her daughter, Leila — a mixed-blood child — and she must go through all the torture and forced appropriation, and transform in the process.
Will she ever see her child? We shall find out on June 14, on Netflix.
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand that ‘Aryavarta’ is akin to Hindutva or muscular Hinduism that sees non-Hindus as evil. ‘Mixed-blood children’ can, therefore, be interpreted as products of a Hindu and non-Hindu marriage — or even love jihad.
And reorientation or transformation is just a form of ‘ghar wapsi’ — something we witnessed in Ghoul too.
Since its trailer dropped two days ago, Leila has been at the receiving end of much hate on Twitter, accompanied with a call to ‘uninstall Netflix’ trending — propagated by eminent voices with massive followership.
Absolutely disgusting that Neflix would allow such Hinduphobic content on their platform. You are abusing Hindus. Absolutely Disgusting. pic.twitter.com/L9F9ks07Ty— Soumyadipta (@Soumyadipta) May 18, 2019
The hate is not just restricted towards the show or the online streaming platform but has turned into personal attacks on the lead actor. Of course, the fact that she isn’t a Hindu apparently justifies the hate.
Co-directed by Deepa Mehta, Shanker Raman and Pawan Kumar, based on the 2017 eponymous novel by Prayaag Akbar, Leila is set in a totalitarian future — where organised religion and its mafia-like followers force their beliefs on those who ask for a choice. Spot statues being erected with a maddening celebration by disciples wearing a colour eerily similar to bhagwa — and similarities with the India of today might be too obvious to miss.
Yes, it instils fear, makes one uncomfortable, shocks one beyond words.
But the question is: does it make one fear the beliefs or the extremist mindset that (often) comes of it?
What Ghoul did last year, and Leila is trying to do this year is simply show the vices of a totalitarian regime — and how it might just give birth to a Frankenstein's monster you won't be able to control, like the djinn in the case of Ghoul. And art, forever, has done that — warn you, premonish the dangers of the future, as it quietly waits on the sidelines witnessing everything unfold.
Which is why, even as eminent Twitterati point out how Hindu-phobic the content is and urge you to boycott Netflix, perhaps it is actually time to get a subscription, if you haven't already.