What is good for news TV is no good for films on OTT, is what Govt control of digital media portends  

‘If you don’t like it, don’t watch it’, said the SC in the context of Arnab Goswami and Republic TV. But the argument does not extend to creative work. Bollywood reacts to Govt control of OTT

What is good for news TV is no good for films on OTT, is what Govt control of digital media portends  

Subhash K Jha

An unexpected and all-too-sudden notification from the Information & Broadcasting ministry, signed by the President, informing that the booming digital platform in India would now be monitored by the Government, has thrown the Indian film industry into a tizzy.

The notification issued on November 9 gives the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting the power to regulate content on the OTT platform. Many filmmakers and actors active on the digital platform in India see this move as the end of creative expression in the visual medium.

Young actor Tanuj Virwani, who is a top-notch name on the digital platform after his career-making performances in the web series Inside Edge, Poison and Code M, sees this as the deathknell of artistic liberty on screen.

“I personally feel there will be a dramatic change in the content and the freedom of creative expression on the OTT (Over The Top) platform. For the past two years, it was like an open season on the digital platform with unlimited freedom to say and show what we want. That will end.”

But Tanuj, who is the son of thepopular 1980s’ actress Rati Agnihotri, also feels that unlimited freedom on OTT platform has been abused. “Many of us have misused the absence of censorship in India on the digital platform.I just hope censorship on OTT won’t curb our freedom of expression to a damaging degree. Because, I really feel the OTT is the way forward. Let’s see… Fingers crossed.”

“There can’t be the same yardstick for all shows. Often a certain amount of abusive language, nudity and drugs are pivotal to the story. The I & B Ministry must look at every show on its own merits and not use a common yardstick for all.”

Actor Akshay Oberoi, popular in the OTT series High, Selection Day and Inside Edge agrees with Tanuj. “Working in the OTT space gave me the freedom to play parts that would not be written for the screen. I understand that we should not be irresponsible as content creators, but censorship is definitely not good for the growing market of OTT.”

One of the most violentand abusive OTT serials Mirzapur, produced by Farhan Akhtar and his partner Ritesh Sidhwani has played a pivotal part in the I & B ministry stepping into the digital domain. Sources close to the I & B ministry say Mirzapur “really went overboard with excessive verbal and visual violence.”

Film critic-turned filmmaker Karan Anshuman, who is the creative mind behind Mirzapur (he’s co-creator, co-writer, co-producer) feels the freedom to tell a story as the creative mind deems fit would now be curbed. “It is a wholly avoidable and regressive step. There should be no censorship of any kind. Instead of moving to a ratings system, people who have no idea of how the world works are going to decide on behalf of a billion people what to watch. It’s simple... If you don’t like it, don’t watch it.There is enough technology and tools to prevent children from watching the wrong programs.”

Television star Karanvir Bohra, who has lately been active on the OTT platform, however, feels the I &B guideline affects only those who try to please with sleaze. “It will only affect those who think sex sells.The top shows that have done extremely well or are really good are the ones with less sex and sleaze and unnecessarily abusive language.Yes, that too will subside. I am not too fond of so many gaalis. It looks and sounds unnatural.”

In the West, when Netflix acquired the controversial and haunting Belgian film on a sex change issue titled Girl, they issued a warning saying, “film covers sensitive issues, and includes some sexual content, graphic nudity, and an act of self-harm.”

But former censorboard chief, actress Asha Parekh feels issuing warnings before adult content on OTT is not enough of a disincentive. “Just because you warn the audience that the show is suited for only those above 16 or 18, how can you ensure children won’t watch it? They have free access to all content on the internet. At the same time, you can’t censor content on the internet. When Amazon cut scenes from director Francis Lee’s gay film God’s Own Country, he advised audiences not to see it on digital.”

Another former censorboard chief filmmaker Pahlaj Nihalani thinks checks and curbs on the digital platform are the need of the hour. “Any and every kind of content is being shown. Censorship should and must be applied to digital shows and I welcome the I & B ministry’s decision to monitor what goes on the internet.”

Filmmaker Bejoy Nambiar, whose digital crime drama Taish is ruling the internet is appalled by the curbs. “It will muzzle us further and limit the ways stories can be told. The content that we make now is not just available here but all over the globe. What happens when we censor a show here but it’s still available elsewhere?”

This writer made several attempts to contact the Minister for Information & Broadcasting Prakash Javadekar directly on his number and through his personal assistant. There was no response.

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