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Bold not beautiful?

The debate over where there should be censorship of content that is being aired on OTT platforms has gained momentum after an official letter to the PM by the Bihar CM

The lockdown has changed things in all ways possible. Among some of the positive changes, the rise of over the top (OTT) platforms is one. The pandemic hit theatres, the entire film industry to be precise, massively. And that’s why OTT platforms have gained more popularity than ever. 

A debate has been raging online: “Should there be censorship on OTT platforms?” Of course, what is popularly called India’s Censor Board is actually an institution that gives certification to films — whether it should be viewed by adults or all ages. In recent years, it has not been doing any heavy-handed censorship — though it does step in sometimes. But films and series on OTT platforms do not have to even get a certificate before release. 

However, there are many who want to do moral policing under pressure from more conservative elements in the public. Last month Chief Minister of Bihar, Nitish Kumar, requested the Prime Minister to impose censorship on OTT platforms as concerns have been raised over the content’s quality — the mandatory censorship of movies and TV is not applicable on streaming platforms like Netflix, Amazon Prime, among others.

In his letter to PM Narendra Modi, Kumar wrote that since OTT platform content is not censored, viewers have unlimited access to its content which is high on obscenity, nudity and violence. It is harmful for the mind of viewers. Furthermore he added, “The streaming services are cheaper than Direct to Home (DTH) and cable services, a reason why it has become more popular among consumers. As there is less clarity on legal provisions binding on the content aired through streaming services, uncensored stuff is getting aired without much advertisements in such programmes.”

Yen for freedom 

This gave fresh impetus to the debate whether there should be censorship on OTT platforms or not.

Rising filmmaker Piyush Mishra talked about the detailing of films and said, “There shouldn’t be any censorship for film lovers and film students. Film is the reduced form of reality and the best art form which includes all other performing arts. So censoring films may lead to a problem if showing a particular scene means showing the essence of a film. Every frame has a meaning. But yes, just to grab the attention of the audience, the makers should not put much abusive and obscene content.” 

A film studies student Md. Asif Khan feels there should not be any censorship on OTT platforms as nobody is being forced to watch what they are serving. “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 Board really wants to take some action, they should make a rule for piracy, so that makers’ freedom of speech is not threatened.” 

Most youngsters are in favour of complete unshackling of creativity. Media student Ankita Das said, “Citizens have a right to engage with and consume whatever content they want to and the censor authorities should not come with any moral baggage. The Cinematograph Act is illogical in the present scenario as it only follows a basic certification system, in keeping with the principles of freedom of creative expression. If the decision is taken by somebody else for what other people should watch, that individual will look at it from their own perspective. And various factors — like the person’s upbringing, education and other factors will come into play. No one should be given such authority.” 

Pataal lok is one of the web-series which received flak as well as appreciation for its content and storytelling // Photo: IMDB

An authoritarian mindset can only harm creative expression and freedom of film directors, she added. 

Contrarily, photojournalist 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. Also, they are appreciated and loved. But it is important to draw a thin line between the content for adults and minors. The segregation of content is important, otherwise it will damage the foundation of our society.” 

To censor or not?

Over the past few years, bold content on OTT platforms and many local platforms were on the rise, showcasing the content without government’s approval. Even if such content has age-restrictions, bypassing it to get access is not that difficult. Recently, controversies have also flared up over intended misrepresentations and communally focused content which spreads hate and lies against particular groups. 

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. On the other hand, Netflix receives criticism for streaming ‘Chippa’ that insulted Hindus and Lord Hanuman, as per a few people.

Another viewer, Manjusha Sahai, said, “There should be no — or at least less censorship — on OTT platforms. As OTT platforms are blooming these days and more and more out-of-the-box content is reaching the audience, directors and writers are finding it easier to present stories with more freedom and style. This doesn’t only give the audience a chance to get clarity and have an understandable knowledge of the content but also works in favour of the storytellers.”

“Art has always been a gateway to interpretations and a major source of depicting our exigent reality,” said Ved, a media student and aspiring filmmaker.  “Nowadays OTT platforms are regarded as a brilliant space for showcasing some bold and fearless artistic content and take no queries and yes, they are. Should it be censored? Yes. If we analyse this in indian context, India has always been a culture driven state and our acceptance and adaptation to art has been completely different from the westerners. Visual depiction has always affected the Indian population in several ways and we have tended to accept it as modernity. Web series such as ‘Patal Lok’ and ‘Mirzapur’ are masterpieces, but the content in them may leave a long lasting impact on the upcoming generation.” he added. Another rising Youtuber Arav Shah believes that there shouldn’t be any censorship over OTT platforms, as it gives freedom to the makers.

Many aspiring filmmakers, film students and regular OTT viewers have also put forth their views about censorship on OTT platforms. Most of them believe that there should not be any censorship of the content. 

OTT platforms give the viewers innumerable choices and room to select what they want to watch and what they want to skip. In reaction to the letter written by CM Nitish Kumar, it’s been stated that there are enough laws to regulate the content which is harmful for society. Section 95 of the Criminal Procedure Code gives a power to the state to take action against those who are trying to promote nudity, any kind of hatred, sedition or anti-national activities. 

But if censorship is imposed on the OTT platforms, will it restrict the choices of makers and viewers altogether?

(Cover: As the debate to censor content on OTT platforms heats up, younger generations are in favour of complete unshackling of creativity // Photo: ipleader.in)