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Delhi High Court refuses to stay streaming of Netflix series 'Hasmukh'

Netflix lawyers argued that the web series is a work of fiction

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MUMBAI: The Delhi high court on Monday dismissed a plea seeking an ad-interim injunction restraining the streaming of the episodes of the web series Hasmukh.

The application against the series was filed by lawyer Ashutosh Dubey, who charged that its fourth episode contained derogatory remarks against the lawyer community.

The series, starring Vir Das, Ranvir Shorey and others, has been produced and owned by Applause Entertainment.

The web series is a dark comedy thriller revolving around a fictional character named ‘Hasmukh’ (Vir Das), an aspiring comedian and the protagonist. The protagonist in the series 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 during a stand-up comedy performance from the fourth episode of the web series. The lawyer alleged in his suit that the dialogues in the said scene are highly disparaging, defamatory and bring disrepute to the legal profession and lawyers in the eyes of the general public.

Netflix lawyers argued that the web series is a work of fiction and explained to the court its brief plot line.

The defense lawyers also submitted that a class of persons 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 defendants also submitted that Article 19 (1) (a) of the Indian Constitution guaranteed 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 observed 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,” stated the court.

The very essence of democracy, observed the court, 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.”

Applause Entertainment, the IP owner of the web series, was represented by senior counsel Sandeep Sethi, briefed by a team from ANM Global Inc comprising Nidhish Mehrotra, Anushree Rauta, Piyush Joshi and Chirag Luthria. 

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