If you follow the Indian comedy scene you might have noticed a hashtag called #BringBackBLF popping up last week. For those wondering what it means, BLF stands for the ‘Better Life Foundation’, an Indian mockumentary web series released on YouTube in 2016. Following the lives of employees at the Better Life Foundation NGO, the series featured lead and cameo appearances from the biggest names in Indian comedy today, including Naveen Richard, Sumukhi Suresh, Kanan Gill, and Kenny Sebastian, among others.
Upon release, the five-episode show was met with positive reviews from critics and audiences alike, resulting in an equally acclaimed second season picked up by the streaming service now known as DisneyPlus Hotstar.
Clearly inspired by iconic workplace mockumentary shows like The Office and Parks and Recreation, BLF was praised for its subtle and self-aware tackling of a myriad of issues in Indian society – like the language gulf between those who do and do not know Hindi, mentalities towards the differently-abled and the infamous world of Indian bureaucracy. I could go on and on about the Michael Scott-esque lead character Neil Menon or his far more competent program head Sumukhi Chawla (think Leslie Knope with Rosa Diaz’s sunshiney attitude), but let’s get to the point.
In 2018, a short time after BLF’s season 2 was released, Hotstar took it off of its platform. The move was seen by many as a ‘knee-jerk’ reaction to the news that one of the actors, Utsav Chakraborty, was accused of sexual misconduct. That was the year that the #MeToo movement swept through India, bringing many such instances to light and empowering survivors to tell their stories. However, Hotstar’s action also called into question its authenticity and whether it was just ‘hollow appeasement’ to appear part of the movement. #BringBackBLF was trending on Twitter, and the show creators spoke up about their opinions as well.
Why bring this up two years later, you may ask? Thanks to the efforts of college student Nishant Manoj, #BringBackBLF has caught the attention of the show creators a second time, and better late than never – we need to discuss the implications of Hotstar’s decision to take it down.
Day 60 of peacefully protesting and requesting @DisneyPlusHS @hotstar_helps @DisneyplusHSVIP @DisneyplusHSP to #BringBackBLF and return the show they wrongfully took down@NaveenRichard @sumukhisuresh @RandomVarun @KananGill @whydebbierao @Wootsawhttps://t.co/Htdsh8dQVE
— paper പുളി #BringBackBLF (@NishManoj) October 22, 2020
Objectively, it does seem as if the removal aimed to display solidarity to the victims of criminal behavior from the stars of their content. However, Vikas Bahl’s Masaan remains up on Hotstar, and Mukesh Chhabra’s Dil Bechara (understandably) received 95 million views in the first 24 hours on the same platform, despite both directors being accused in the #MeToo movement as well.
Yes,Kevin Spacey was rightly fired from House of Cards, but they were allowed to finish without him. What is more, none of the previous seasons got wantonly removed from their platform. Neither did the numerous films associated with Harvey Weinstein. Production simply went on without their accused members, and that is a choice that the BLF team was robbed of.
The show also featured a large number of women in the crew, including the director Debbie Rao, executive producer, and female leads. What is more, because of their contract, the creators do not own rights to the show that they built. This means they do not have permission to re-upload their hard work on any other platform either.
I don’t know about you, but I was reminded about a similar spat that Taylor Swift had with Big Machine Records about owning her own content. Taylor came out on top eventually (as queens do), but what happens when you aren’t worth upwards of 300 million dollars?
Ultimately, I don’t know if DisneyPlus Hotstar will ever acknowledge or make amends for their actions. They’re a multimillion-dollar company with bigger fish to fry, so they’ll probably stop at blocking the person who restarted the hashtag (they did) and leave it at that.
Whatever happens though, hopefully, #BringBackBLF serves as a reminder about the danger of knee jerk reactions – however well-intentioned – and the importance of support for creators who have poured their hearts into their work.