Was the Pataal Lok controversy raked up to get more eyeballs?

When it comes to inspiration for fiction, the great options that real life throws up can be too overwhelming to ignore. There are times when films pick up real-life situations or iconic moments to recreate onscreen drama.

While this could probably be reason by the makers of Paatal Lok might have used a real-life photo to augment the serial’s narrative, how they seemingly blurred the line between fact and fiction left a lot to be desired.

A complaint has been filed against producer Anushka Sharma, the producer of web-series Pataal Lok, where an image used in one of the episodes had one of the show’s character’s face is morphed over a real-life photo of Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Aditynath.

In the series, a corrupt character’s face has replaced the UP CM, but the faces of the remaining persons in the photo were left unedited. One of the people in the photo, UP MLA Nandkishore Gurjar filed a complaint against Anushka Sharma for using his photo in the show without his permission.

There are times when production designers sieve through real-life instances to use as a reference when it comes to designing the mise-en-scène. This ploy usually helps in getting the audience to connect with the ‘reel’ faster than usual as somewhere their subconscious mind is aware of the ‘real.’

Take, for instance, Madhur Bhandarkar’s films Indu Sarkar (2017) that was set during the 1975 National Emergency imposed by the then prime minister Indira Gandhi. The film’s teaser poster featured iconography that was reminiscent of the unforgettable of George Fernandes being arrested and it immediately conveyed the message. 

However, the way Paatal Lok approached reality to include it in its narrative is questionable, to say the least. When it comes to the photo episode, the serial’s storyline follows a government highway scam. What makes the entire issue too close to home is that the photo that was used featured Yogi Adityanath inaugurating a highway project! 

The show has been the toast of the social media discussions when it comes to OTT content made in India but not without its share of controversies. The show ran in trouble when a lawyer, Viren Sri Gurung, sent a notice to Anushka Sharma, and her brother, Karnesh, who serve as executive producers on the show, for insulting the Nepali community.

According to the complaint, a scene in the show has a lady police officer calling a character ‘Nepali ra*di’ (prostitute) in the course of interrogation caused uproar in the community. Before the photo controversy could add to the woes of Paatal Lok’s producers, complaints were also filed against for showing the Sikh community in a bad light.

In one episode, a Sikh man is shown to be raping a woman while another Sikh man watches in despair. Both instances have been called out for projecting the particular communities in an unsavoury manner. While, on the one hand, the show has been hailed for its grittiness, on the other, there is an argument from commentators within the Nepali community that while the show might explore the harsh reality, it will nonetheless indirectly contribute to spreading such notions causing ‘harm to the community in the longer run’.

While Paatal Lok has reportedly changed the image after the growing controversy, the entire episode seems to suggest more than what meets the eye.

Depending on where you’d like to view the episode from, the producers could label this an inadvertent mistake on the part of some enthusiastic graphic artist. But can such a mistake be unplanned?

In this day and age, where producers do not entertain even a basic elevator pitch until the writer makes it clear that the story or concept being narrated is registered lest they accuse later, it is hard to believe that one would use images of real-life politicians to depict onscreen politicians without the former’s permission.

On the other hand, one wouldn’t be surprised at all if all this was an effort to rake up controversy, which, in turn, would help get the show necessary eyeballs.