Netflix pulls Nayanthara film after controversy surrounding Hindu Brahmin cooking meat

Story follows a priest's daughter as she defies her family's wishes, elopes with a Muslim man and secretly pursues a career to become a chef

Bollywood star Nayanthara plays a character desperate to become India's best chef. Photo: Zee Studios
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Netflix is facing a backlash from fans in India after pulling a film in a row about a Brahmin woman cooking meat.

Annapoorani: The Goddess of Food, a Tamil-language film featuring Bollywood star Nayanthara, centres on a Hindu temple priest’s daughter who elopes with her Muslim boyfriend to pursue her childhood dream of becoming India’s top chef.

The film was approved by the official censorship board and released in theatres last month before being added to Netflix. It was available in several languages, including Hindi.

However, it was removed from the streaming platform worldwide on Thursday.

"The film has been removed at the licensor's request," a Netflix representative told The National.

After it was pulled, the film's producers issued apologies. Multiple police cases have been filed against the lead actress, the cast and the film's production company after protests by Hindu groups over claims it went against religious sentiments.

The film, which did marginal business at the box office, tells the story of an ambitious woman from an orthodox Brahmin family – the priestly class and highest among Hinduism’s caste system – who defies her family's wishes, secretly joins a culinary course and cooks meat to fulfil her dream of becoming a chef.

“Netflix has taken a stance in the past to defend different viewpoints reflected in its content, so it seems a little hypocritical to not take a similar stance here,” says Ankit Ojha, an Indian film critic and content creator of Hindu faith who lives in the UAE.

“While it may have been doing so because of the wishes of its partners, it’s hugely disappointing to see a film that was such a hit with audiences disappear from the platform, especially for those outside of India.”

Ojha adds, “From what I understand, the founder of Zee Studios, one of the film's producers, has strong associations with Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party, which has a sizable conservative base, so it’s not surprising that those parties would request the film be taken down, if that’s indeed what happened."

Roughly 80 per cent of India’s 1.4 billion people follow Hinduism and around 5 per cent are Brahmins. They are typically vegetarian and refrain from consuming meat or touching it.

Several Hindu groups, including those linked to the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, like Vishwa Hindu Parishad, were angered by the depiction of a Brahmin woman cooking meat and defiling religious sentiments.

They claimed certain scenes, such as the actress wearing a hijab and offering namaz before cooking biryani, are offensive. In another scene, the protagonist’s Muslim boyfriend asks her to cut meat after claiming Lord Rama, the Hindu deity and his goddess wife Sita, also “consumed meat".

Several police cases have been filed against the film and its cast, including one by Hindu Sewa Parishad, which accused the film producers of “promoting enmity among groups on the grounds of religion”.

Two police cases have been filed against actress Nayanthara and others in Mumbai by right-wing outfits like Bajrang Dal and Hindu IT Cell.

The film was linked by its critics to a conspiracy theory popularised by right-wing groups who claim Muslim men maliciously lure women, particularly from the Hindu community, into romantic relationships to convert them to Islam.

“At a time when the whole world is rejoicing in anticipation of the Pran Pratishtha of Bhagwan Shri Ram Mandir, this anti-Hindu film Annapoorani has been released on Netflix, produced by Zee Studios, Naad Studios and Trident Arts,” Ramesh Solani, the founder of Hindu IT Cell said in X, formerly Twitter.

“We are strictly warning you Netflix India to immediately withdraw this evil movie of yours or else be ready to face legal consequences,” said Shriraj Nair, Vishwa Hindu Parishad's representative wrote on X.

Many have welcomed the removal, while others have criticised the attacks on the filmmakers.

“Soon they will say that the Kamban Ramayan which is in Tamil is invalid. Can't believe that anyone and everyone can file an FIR [a police report] against a channel, actor, creators just because their fragile ill-informed sensibilities are hurt,” said Onir, a film director.

The withdrawal of the film comes amid a wave of right-wing action as India gears for the consecration ceremony of the Rama temple in Ayodhya, which will be opened by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on January 22.

The temple is being built on the site of Babri Masjid, a 16th-century mosque constructed by Mughal ruler Babar, that was razed in 1992.

Many Hindus believe the mosque was built on the birthplace of Lord Rama.

It follows similar controversies surrounding the Hindi Bollywood film industry, which churns out more than 1,000 films a year.

Bollywood is frequently the ire of politicians, but in recent years, criticism has become more frequent. Many accuse the industry of having links to organised crime and extremist groups.

“It just gets worse and worse,” said veteran journalist Vir Sanghvi.

“Unless society stands up unequivocally to this majoritarian bullying, the future is dark,” X user Ajay Kamath wrote.

In 2022, the country’s film censorship board was criticised after it sought changes to superstar Shah Rukh Khan’s film Pathaan. Some Hindu groups were upset about a song sequence of an actress dancing in a saffron-coloured monokini.

Members of the groups burnt effigies of the film's stars and tore down its posters at theatres during protests.

Updated: January 13, 2024, 8:13 AM