AHMEDABAD: The Gujarat high court on Wednesday decided to watch the movie ‘Maharaj’ to see if the film, slated for release on Netflix, hurts the religious sentiments of the Pustimargi sect.

(Gujarat High Court)

Justice Sangeeta Vishen said if the court finds that there was nothing that hurts religious sentiments in the film, then the case would rest. “You are only concerned if the movie is hurting the religious feelings of a particular sect or not,” the bench told senior counsel Mihir Joshi, who appeared for the petitioners.

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The film, which stars Aamir Khan’s son Junaid Khan and Jaideep Ahlawat in the lead roles, is based on a landmark libel case of 1862 filed by a leading Vaishnavite figure, Jadunathji, against journalist and social reformer Karsandas Mulji who had written against sexual exploitation by the all-powerful Maharaj. Mulji’s expose of the exploitative practice in his magazine The Satyaprakash led to a libel case which became the celebrated Maharaj Libel Case.

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On June 13, the high court stopped Netflix from releasing the movie, leading the streaming giant and filmmaker Yash Raj Films to approach the high court for relief.

The petitioners, including the Pustimargi sect, sought orders against the film’s release on the assumption that it showed the Vaishnav sect in a bad light, was likely to “incite feelings of hatred and violence” against the sect, and that it may “hurt public sentiments at large with its reportedly controversial depiction of certain characters and practices”.

The bench, which started hearing detailed arguments in the case on Tuesday, took up the production house on its offer to screen the film for the court on Wednesday and asked the other stakeholders to see if they reach a consensus on this point.

An hour later, senior lawyer Mihir Joshi who appeared for the petitioners, said he was on board. “The court may watch the movie and assess if it’s defamatory or not… we don’t have any commercial interests or anything against Netflix or Yash Raj Films. Please watch it. If the film does not run down our religion, let them go ahead with public viewing. We don’t want to stretch the matter at all,” Joshi said.

Shalin Mehta, who appeared for Yash Raj Films, said that the production house wanted to pursue the case on the maintainability of the petition irrespective of the outcome of the screening, pointing out that his client was losing money for every day of delay in the release of the film.

The bench, however, brushed aside the reasoning, saying the filmmakers got a Central Board of Film Certification nod in May 2023. “There was no rule or law restricting the movie’s release. But you waited till June (14). So one day here or there may not affect much,” she said.

Mehta sought to assure the petitioners that the film did not report on the judgment but the trial. “Not a single line from the judgement is read out in the film… except that the case has been dismissed after 32 witnesses examined,” he said, responding to petitioners alleging that the judges of the Supreme Court of Bombay in 1862, castigated the Hindu religion and made blasphemous comments against Lord Krishna, as well as the devotional songs and hymns.

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