Debate over need for censorship in OTTs has picked up the pace. Abuses and crass words are slipped off as “language of the masses”, which is not completely wrong, but where and how to draw the line? The popularity of OTT shows rides on director’s creativity which is otherwise kind of curtailed in mainstream cinema.
During the Covid-19 pandemic, OTT platforms became prominent substitutes for theatres and the faithful cinema-goers found this alternative not only convenient but also very interesting. Gradually, several platforms emerged around the country and abroad, due to which, a wide array of interesting content started to stream online and censorship in OTTs also became a point of discussion.
Interestingly, under the present broadcasting rules, the content on OTTs is not censored by the CBFC. Thus, by its very nature these contents proved to be realistic and relatable to the mass audience. OTT platforms like Netflix, Amazon Prime, Zee5, Alt Balaji, produced several original web-series and movies which proved to be an instant hit with the youth. The shows catered different genres ranging from thrillers to comedies and what not. But this realistic storytelling also introduced an interesting aspect of uncensored abuse and violence (almost in every content nowadays) which was not previously known to the Indian societal ethos.
Important Data Related to OTTs
Again, since these OTT platforms are mostly being used by the youth, their introduction to uncensored verbal and physical violence through these OTT contents does appear to be a major cause of concern with respect to censorship in OTTs. To put things into context, according to a report, OTT platforms are growing at a high rate of 28.6% and it is considerably likely to raise $2.1 billion by 2024. Needless to say that majority of these users comprise of the young Indians who are at their very impressionable age.
Also reports indicate that often the contents served on OTT platforms attract several controversies from various sections of the Indian society, making a case for censorship in OTTs. For example, popular shows like Tandav (Amazon Prime) and Bombay Begums (Netflix) instantly became topic of controversies for allegedly hurting religious sentiments or even promoting child sexual abuse, as claimed by some groups. Similarly, Netflix’s popular series ‘The Sacred Games’ received flaks from several stakeholders of the Indian society with its controversial themes of Bofors Scandal, assassination of Rajiv Gandhi and the sensational issue of love jihad. The Family Man season 2 also came in the limelight because of its alleged portrayal of the Tamil people in an undesirable way.
So, the Question is Whether it is Time for OTT Censorship in India?
A per a survey, 57% of people want censorship in OTTs or some kind of regulatory body which can keep a check on what kind of content is being put on OTT platforms, 27 % say it is not needed and 16% are unsure about the censorship.
On the other hand, several content creators have vehemently opposed the idea of censorship citing that such a step will result in an unreasonable restriction on their right to free speech.
They have a very valid point indeed!
Admittedly, the right of free speech and expression is subjected to reasonable restriction but the threshold of reasonability is subjective too. Further, if in a diverse country such as India the makers have to take all subjective morality into account while creating a content, how will they even create one?
Similarly, the scepticism around uncensored violence seems to be futile as the OTT platforms come with a child control option through which mature content can be restricted from access of underaged viewers.
But Does the Government Agrees to this Point of View? The Answer is a Clear "NO"
Under the Information and Technology Rules too, if any content causes unrest among the people, then it can be removed by the authorities with immediate effect. But the question still remains whether in case of futile unrest, will these IT rules come in the way of independence of thought? While some of you might raise your eyebrows by now, but I will still stick to my scepticism especially with some of the recent controversies around films and web series vs. public morality and religious sentiments.
Let’s consider the curious case of the colour of Deepika Padukone’s bikini in the blockbuster movie Pathan. As we all know, a section of Indians (I would say self-proclaimed custodians of Hindutva) got offended with the use of saffron colour for her attire. Not only did they threaten to boycott the movie but also there were incidents of vandalising the theatres at different parts of the country. Does this sound bizarre enough?
Similarly, I believe that the introduction of censorship in OTTs platforms not only will put the freedom of the makers under threat but also as viewers it will take away our freedom to watch a content of our choice.
For all those who are still concerned about disruption to public morality because of different forms of uncensored violence and profane languages used in the content on OTT, I do take your point.
But I Want To Provide Some Food for Thought Here.
Even if profanity is censored across OTT, how many of you (including me) will completely stop using such languages in our daily lives? Also let us travel to the pre-pandemic times for a moment. The impact of OTT was surely not there during those days. But according to the NCRB reports, different forms of violence in the society (both domestic and public) was no less during those years.
For the issue of sexually explicit contents, the constant booming of population and increase in number of rapes already tells the story. Also I believe we are somewhat hypocritic with the issue of sex because while we praise an intense lovemaking scene in a Hollywood movie, we become sceptical when its shot with Indian actors! I feel it’s time to come out of our hypocritic closets of a firm belief that sexual intercourse is a dirty taboo. Remember that babies are not gifted by the Almighty after all!
Censorship in OTTs will rather be counter-productive in this context. It will make us into that child who loves doing things which they are forbidden to do by their parents, but still finds a way.
About the Author
Shikhar is a fourth year student of Lloyd Law College in Noida. Shikhar’s passion is to watch movies and web series. He is also a prolific reader of novels and non fictions.