So far so good

Platforms like Netflix, Amazon Prime and Hotstar are offering content with unrestricted violence, sex and nudity. Will censors spoil the fun?

Streaming content, produced locally or overseas, is not regulated in India. The explicit content of Netflix and its competitors reaches Indian households with Internet connections without any filters.

That is because the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC), which censors and classifies movies, has no control over over-the-top (OTT) service providers. The question is: How long will the nanny state refrain from stepping in to ‘protect the modesty of viewers nationwide’?

The forces of globalisation have spread out, blurring nations’ boundaries. American international influence is not perpetuated by its military might in this part of the world, but their way of life is percolating across cultures, media, education, and even pornography, and Internet is the vehicle.

The French were the first formidable opponents of American popular culture some 25 years ago when, during the countdown of the global free trade accord in 1994, the French movie producers, directors, actors and other forms of audiovisual entertainment sought bans on anything Hollywood under the banner of ‘cultural exception’, a term that had patriotic resonance. But this resistance was not strong enough. Now Hollywood rules the French box office, as for the first time in 2015 more than half the market share was captured by Hollywood movies.

History seems to be repeating itself in India — this time by way of digitally curated content. Netflix has become the world’s leading Internet television network with over 69 million members in over 60 countries enjoying more than 100 million hours of TV shows. Two original series — Sacred Games and Ghoul — are already ruffling features; nine more such series are in the pipeline.

India is a prime destination, according to the estimate of PwC, a consultancy firm, India’s video streaming market is likely to become one of the top 10 video streaming markets by 2022 with revenues of Rs 5,595 crore. To tap into the immense Indian market, Netflix plans to spend more than $8 billion on original programming this year in India.
Consumers of entertainment never had it so good. The days of Torrent and other streaming websites, or watching films on burned discs and cheap movie hall copies, are over. The advent of OTT service provider gave access to good quality, uncensored content at a reasonable price.

Will moral policing start when the conservative government wakes up? A director staying in Gurgaon who has worked as a consultant with Netflix, explains the situation. “You cannot fight the government, agreed. But one must understand this censorship is not cultural in nature, but for all the economic reasons.” The fact of the matter is Netflix content is not just explicit in nature, is also superior, better researched, better enacted, better produced and a better representative of the world we live in.”

A representative of Netflix, not an Indian national, airs his personal views over a mug of beer in an upmarket bar in Gurgaon. “I think it’s high time Indian government starts treating Indians as adults,” he says and explains at length, with an air of sarcasm, that as far as children are concerned, there are parental control settings.

Anand Neelakantan, a renowned author, who’s currently busy writing the three series prequel of Baahubali — a blockbuster movie which is a recreation of mystical society — for Netflix, is against any form of censorship. “It can be done for TV, not for web series because it is a very personal thing. Only if you have an account can you access Netflix. For adults, I do not think the government should say what they should watch and what they should not.”

Further, he explains, sex and violence are a part of life, and essential for proper storytelling. “We are imitating the morality of Saudi Arabia or the Victorian era, which is not our culture at all. It would be crazy,” adds Neelakantan, someone who’s competent to vouch for Indian culture is an author of many successful mythological novels.

Not just the OTT content, the authorities made a failed bid to ban pornography in 2015, and since then have tried time and again, in vain. This year again, over 800 pornography sites were blocked in India, and now the focus reportedly has shifted on series like Scared Games. The government has a lot to learn from the experience in France 25 years ago; the best way to promote a certain nature of content in the long run is to censor or ban it.

“Censorship is to art as lynching is to justice,” said Henry Louis Gates Jr, an American literary figure and a filmmaker. And controlling the web is a nightmare for governments all over the world. The best way to deal with the popularity of Netflix is, perhaps, to curate better content.

With additional reporting by Shruti Das and inputs by Sreya Deb

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