Comedian in police custody for a video reviewing the film Bir Bikram 2Responding to a complaint filed by the film’s director, police detained stand-up comedian Pranesh Gautam on Friday
More than two weeks after filmmaker Milan Chams filed a police complaint about a video that Meme Nepal, a popular Facebook page, had posted about his recent film—Bir Bikram 2—Pranesh Gautam, the comedian who appears in the video, was detained on Friday.
Superintendent of Police Kedar Dhakal confirmed that Gautam had been detained on Friday afternoon for investigation based on the complaint filed by the Bir Bikram 2 filmmaker.
“An arrest warrant was issued against Gautam and he will be investigated for cyber crime related charges because of the video he made,” said Dhakal.
In the video, uploaded on May 22, Gautam calls Bir Bikram 2 unnecessarily loud, and says the story is strikingly similar to the Bollywood hit Sholay. Besides some good actors and plenty of drone shots of a village, it has “nothing new to offer”, he says in the video. Yet in the end, Gautam calls the film “entertaining” and says people should watch it or else “these guys will beat me up,” almost prescient of how things would unfold for him after the video’s release. As of yet, the video has over 125,000 plays on YouTube.
Advocate Rastra Bimochan Timalsina, who represented Meme Nepal during a meeting at the Teku police station two weeks ago, had received a call from police late Sunday evening, informing him that an arrest warrant had been issued against Gautam and that he would have to appear at the Teku police station on Monday afternoon. Timalsina, who is also a YouTuber, told the Post that the police didn’t clarify the grounds on which the warrant had been issued.
“The police didn’t tell me anything clearly but I think they might have used certain sections of the Electronic Transaction Act to book Pranesh for the video,” Timalsina said. “There is a high chance he might be kept in custody.”
Speaking to the Post last Monday, Gautam had said he didn’t go to the police station because the authorities hadn’t been clear with him or his representatives on why he had been summoned to the police station. Gautam said he hasn’t been able to sleep or think properly, which has affected his health.
“I know I am not in the wrong. We never intended to hurt anyone with the video, but fear has gripped me so badly, I don’t know what to say,” he said, “ I had no idea I would be this scared.”
Gautam said that while he is thankful for all the messages of support, it still doesn’t change how he feels about the possibility of facing jail time.
“I have already said goodbye to my parents and girlfriend, just in case I end up in custody,” he said days before being detained.
Filmmaker Milan Chams, who filed the complaint, said he was aware that the police were acting on the complaint, but didn’t get into the details of how the case would move forward.
“My brand manager is handling all the legal proceedings, and anyway, these are legal proceedings so I cannot speak about them right now,” said Chams.
Chams reiterated the grounds for his complaint, which range from the video using foul language, trying to ‘defame’ people involved in the movie, and telling people to not watch the film. In addition to these, he also told the Post that Meme Nepal had tried to ‘extort’ Rs 12,000 from his team to promote a song from the film.
Meme Nepal members said that is the standard rate they charge for promotions for films and other artforms, and that they receive dozens of requests for promotions or queries about promotions each day.
“Nearly four months ago, someone from Bir Bikram 2 had asked us about our promotion rates. We told them and never heard back,” said Aadarsh Mishra, a Meme Nepal member. “How can they use the screenshot of that conversation to claim extortion?” Mishra was also called to the Teku Police station this afternoon but no charges have been filed against him yet.
“Depending on what we find during the investigation, we may file charges against other members of Meme Nepal as well,” said SP Dhakal.
Nepali content creators say they are appalled by what happened to Gautam.
“This is purely a case of personal vendetta, because the filmmaker didn’t like the video about his movie,” said Sushant Shrestha, director at Kooky Dunk, which produces videos laced with humour and social commentary. “This isn’t how democracy or freedom of expression works, you can’t just put someone in jail just because you don’t like what they say about you.”