Censorship of OTT platforms in India likely

Calls for scrutinisation of content online

Cinema

August 5, 2020

/ By / New Delhi



OTT has become the sole outlet for not just web series but even mainstream cinema, as theatres have remained closed for almost five months now

Over four years after they made their debut and at a time when they have become the default mode of cinema releases, OTT platforms in India come under scrutiny amidst calls for censorship.

Paatal Lok, produced by actor Anushka Sharma, has been lapped up by the audience. Streaming since May 2020 on Amazon Prime, it has earned rave reviews from the critics as well as viewers. However, Paatal Lok has also been mired in controversies almost right since its release for its depiction of violence. Depiction of brutal killings, bullying of Dalits and gang rape of Dalit women by upper-caste men, the hypocrisy of a Brahman politician and criticism of the current government didn’t go well with a lot of viewers of the show. Several groups labelled the show ‘Hinduphobic’ and demanded a ban on the web series from all OTT platforms.

More recently, another web series that raised a storm on smartphones was Rasbhari, starring Bollywood actress Swara Bhaskar, that has been heavily criticised for its sexual content around the female protagonist. Both Paatal Lok and Rasbhari have once again led to a debate over the censorship of OTT and other digital platforms which have so far escaped any form of government regulation.

The question has become even more important since the outbreak of Covid-19 pandemic, as OTT has become the sole outlet for not just web series but even mainstream cinema, as theatres have remained closed for almost five months now. While traditional media like press, television, radio or films have been regulated by the government for long, however, the digital media and the OTTs have escaped all scrutiny. The OTT platforms have earlier signed on to a self-regulatory code of best practices under the aegis of the Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI), but there is no official government policy regarding it.

But this is likely to change soon. Currently, OTT platforms that are digitally streamed fall under the domain of the Ministry of Information and Technology (IT). However, the government seems to be having a rethink on the situation, as indicated by the Information and Broadcasting secretary Amit Khare during a recent media conclave.

In his speech, Khare raised the issue of lack of regulation of OTT platforms and the need for developing a level playing field for all sorts of creative media. “We are proposing that OTT content should fall under the purview of I&B. The convergence of ministries is extremely necessary. The Information and broadcasting ministry is working on a ‘light-touch regulatory regime’ that will bring all the sectors within the media and entertainment (M&E) industry-print, television, radio, films and digital media under one governance umbrella, allowing a level playing field,” Khare said in a virtual session during FICCI FRAMES 2020.

However, the government’s interference is unlikely to go down well with the viewers or producers of content on OTTs as creators and viewers believe that it will curb the creative spirit of the content makers who have the freedom to showcase ideas and things which might not have been possible conventionally.

“Art has always been a gateway to interpretations and a major source of depicting our exigent reality,” said Shambhavi Soni, 26, a media student and aspiring filmmaker from Amity College, Noida. “Nowadays OTT platforms are regarded as a brilliant space for showcasing some bold and fearless artistic content and take no queries. They shouldn’t be censored. India has always been a culture driven state and our acceptance and adaptation to art has been completely different from the westerners. The visual depiction has always affected the Indian population in several ways and we have tended to accept it. Web series such as Paatal Lok are masterpieces, and will leave a long-lasting impact on the upcoming generation,” she added.

A film studies student from Delhi University, Md. Asif Khan, 24, also feels there should not be any censorship on OTT platforms as nobody is being forced to watch what they are serving. He said “It totally depends upon the audience’s choice. Also, censorship will bind directors, limit their creativity. Since there’s no censorship, filmmakers can make films without any restrictions. But yes, if the Censor Board really wants to take some action, they should make a rule for piracy, so that makers’ freedom of speech is not threatened,”

Over the past few years, unconventional content on OTT platforms and many local platforms have been on the rise. Even if some of this content may call forage-related restrictions, bypassing it to get access is not difficult. Recently, controversies have also flared up over misrepresentations and allegedly communal content. Very often, producers and directors tend to give in to the sentiments of the people and edit their content post-release to save themselves from potential legal actions.

In this context, Ekta Kapoor had to remove scenes from one of her Alt Balaji series, after being accused of hurting religious sentiments and insulting soldiers. In another instance, Director Safdar Rehman also removed a few scenes from his film Chippa, streaming on Netflix, as the film, interpreted by a few viewers, insulted Hindu gods.

Contrary to Soni and Khan, a Delhi based photographer, Aditya Uttam says, “There has to be some sort of censorship,” He added “Censorship is important in a certain category of OTT as many minors also have access to it. Nudity and abusive language, however, is very common in OTT platforms, creating a negative impact on delicate young minds. It’s true that they show the real face of our society and it is important to present it as it is. But it is important to draw a thin line between the content for adults and minors. The segregation of content is important; otherwise, creators will put unnecessary violence, obscenity and controversial elements for getting views.”

With cinema theatres unlikely to open anytime soon in the country, OTT platforms have surely given a way out for filmmakers and artists to release their content without being worried about getting clearance certificates for their films and series’ from the censor board.

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