Freedom of Speech has always been a contentious issue in India. Governments of all stripes have charged artists with sedition. Upcoming OTT platform, Viu, has tried to address this issue in a humorous way, through its new web series, Banned, produced by Mautik Tolia and Sukesh Motwani’s Bodhi Tree Productions.

It traces the journey of a musical group, nicknamed Swag Busters, who get hauled over the coals for a song which exhorts the Brits to regain control over India. Interestingly, till the fourth episode (first four were uploaded in one go), the makers have not explained the underlying meaning of what they meant by the above lyrics, which is surely controversial, given that we suffered 200 years of British imperialism. Also, in India, unlike the West, freedom of speech is subject to certain restrictions. No doubt youth have a right to say what they want, but they can’t ignore history which is quite sensitive.

Having said that, the makers have shown that the police complaint against them was malicious. An upcoming politician, named Guptaji, was trying to get even with them (find below). Well-known actor, Vivek Mushran, brings out the wily qualities of a neta using patriotism as a ruse to fool the voters (a dig at contemporary politics).

Keeping in mind the desi ethos of an entertainment thaali, the whole story smartly does not revolve only around sedition (might have become too heavy and non-entertaining). Rather, it is a comic take on the career trajectory of musicians, complete with all their quirks. Lead guy, Sangeet (Paresh Pahuja), returns home to Sirsa after being eliminated mid-way from a talent hunt, with the local media and society hailing him as a hero.

He then, as per his Guruji’s wishes, decides to form his own band. Enter Casanova, Gaurav Bhalla (Sahil Anand), and liquor store owner’s grandson, Shampoo (Deepak Kalra). Any tale is incomplete without romance; so we have Sangeet’s love interest, Nirmal (Sheetal Thakur), who supports them to the hilt.

Unable to make money from gigs and needing to pay landlord Guptaji, they start performing at jagratas, which makes them famous. They are soon joined by a blind instrument player, Maddi (Syed Zeeshan Qadri), who is quite street smart, with his own idiosyncrasies. Sangeet effectively brings out the angst of the artist in him, who wants to fly and not just croon religious songs. The story also dwells on the life of the quartet in jail, where the threat of male rape always looms large. They have also roped in the issue of moral policing– a close moment between Madri and his girl, Chinu (Shivani Joshi), was blown out of proportion by the media. Having said that, will you kiss your guy when being taken away from court? Like today’s unaware youth– at first, they seemed to take jail to be a picnic, with Gaurav giving his identity as G Bhalla.

The band also uses SM to become famous, piggy-backing on the followers of Chinu. Would it not have been better had they also shown how SM is used to falsely show popularity? You might ask why at this point, but when you are already covering a gamut of issues, why not one more?

Coming to characterization, we sure hope that they add a more greyish shade to Sangeet. But yes, Paresh, who is known for his negative stint in Tiger Zinda Hai, again effectively brings out the loss that youth feel when the system throws them to the wolves. It was good to see that most other band members had flaws, e.g. recording Gupta’s escapade with a woman in their studio. Sahil (Student of the Year and Babloo Happy Hai) is apt as a lover boy, who can’t keep his pants up, even sleeping with aunties by taking advantage of his jagrata fame (will this also annoy the right wing?).

Even Deepak is fun, but to be honest, hope they could add some layers to his character; life is not just fun and games. We are most impressed by Syed as Maddi, who admits that so what if he is blind, but still wants a woman like any other man.

All in all, Banned appears interesting and should make viewers return for more episodes. Viu has smartly kept away from unnecessary abuse. Agreed there were few swear words, but they fell in with the flow and did not appear jarring. There is no nudity so far; both the female leads are fully clothed, which makes sense, given the small town backdrop. Interestingly Sheetal had done a very bold role of the sex-starved girl in the recent Netflix movie, Brij Mohan Amar Rahe.

We are looking forward for the story to unfold, and yes, the reason for the song is most important.

Hope they also expose the dark underbelly of the music industry, and not just stick to taking pot-shots at the Government.

We at credit Banned 3 out of 5 stars.