Film makers, content creators & critics feel the proposed censorship of online content is unreasonable
This was the scene. A death penalty is being executed as the convict goes through the last phase of his life. The crew felt the need to show the body’s ill-fated struggle to hold back the life.
“It was a brief shot. We used an expert stuntman who did it well. Now, this scene, you cannot easily find in mainstream cinemas and this is the freedom we are exploring in OTT (Over The Top),” Manoj Paramahamsa, co-producer and cinematographer of Auto Shankar, a Zee5 crime series told The Lede.
Now independent film makers like Paramahamsa who release their movies and series on ‘Over The Top’ platforms like Amazon Prime, Netflix and Zee5 are likely to see curtailment of such creative liberties if the Union Information & Broadcasting Ministry has its way.
Unveiling a new logo and certificate design for the CBFC (Central Board of Film Certification) last week, I&B minister Prakash Javadekar, invited suggestions and recommendations for certification of online content.
A meeting is expected to be held later this month inviting stake holders for views.
By online content, the minister was referring to tele-series and movies which are originally released on OTT platforms.
Popular Indian series like Sacred Games, Leila and mini-series like Ghoul, Auto Shankar have already set OTT platforms buzzing.
This is different from platforms like YouTube and Daily Motion which simply provide platforms for users to post content created by them.
YouTube and similar platforms generate revenue from advertisements but OTT platforms like Netflix and Amazon Prime depend on subscription. Only adults above 18 years of age, with bank accounts and credit cards can access these subscriptions.
“If it is adult content like sex and violence that the censor board is worried about, they (OTT platforms) can make the access even more restricted with passcodes to access such content and the only users are credit card holders,” Paramahamsa told The Lede.
He feels that certification of online content is unnecessary and redundant. Projects with complicated plots, like that of Auto Shankar, he feels, cannot be attempted in regular commercial film making.
If the concern of the state is that of violence and sex on OTT platforms, it is an irrelevant one. Smart phones and other devices have already brought these to the millennials in the form of gaming and porn.
National award winning director Vetrimaaran says an attempt to enforce censorship over online content is nothing but moral policing.
“On OTT platforms, I have the right to say something, which anyway does not reach the general public the way mainstream cinema reaches them. And to view such content, you have to have your own private space. Let me decide whether to watch it or not,” he told The Lede, adding that it is unhealthy to control viewer’s discretion.
Mainstream cinema is not easy for newcomers. Finding funding and dealing with big losses are all too common, especially for first time film makers.
Vijay Varadharaj, who is awaiting the release of his first film as a director told The Lede - “I rather expected it, that the state would react to online content. Not just sexual content, the freedom to discuss politics, caste, religion and violence must have disturbed the state more.”
Indian original web series like Sacred Games and Ghoul are known for their strong narratives against the extreme right wing.
Recently released Leila, though set in a dystopic future in 2047, attempts to depict the probable consequences of attempts by ultra conservatives to undermine democracy.
While it is usual to come across cuss words and slang in daily life, why should there be a restriction to use them in our art forms, asks director Vijay Varadharaj. He also curates a YouTube channel, Temple Monkey TV, known for its wit.
Directors and content creators feel there is a need for alternate narratives in the OTT platforms since mainstream cinema does not allow it.
“What is understood is that the alternate narrative is being suppressed. The system does not like this alternate narrative and they try to frame the discourse. But we need to have the freedom to discuss it. Let the people view the content and come to conclusions,” director Vetrimaaran said.
Directors also find that the mainstream media compromises on scripts. For example, depicting a typical village in a film with its equations of caste, gender and emotions is almost impossible in mainstream cinema.
“My script details the southern landscape. The language, the slang is so intense and robust with cuss words and emotions that I would miss out the originality in mainstream,” said Vinoth Raj, an upcoming independent movie maker and script writer.
He feels that censor board or certification would restrict his space to explore the innate aggression of characters.
Vetrimaaran says there is a need for a creative space for writers to work on narratives which could be totally against widely acknowledged versions of history.
“Quentin Tarantino had Hitler assassinated in his plot (Inglorious Basterds, 2009). That’s a narrative he wanted to discuss. He wanted to reframe history that way. There are things other than that, that the system wants to discuss,” he said.
While a section of netizens have used the “family” argument to express support for censorship of online content, the nature of the internet beast is that it is difficult, if not impossible to control.
“The moment content goes digital online it is totally scot free. That’s internet. OTT is just another app where the viewers pay for access. Other than that, it is part and parcel of internet and not a water tight compartment,” cinematographer Manoj Paramahamsa said.
Terming it as shades of fascism, Charu Nivedita, writer said the government’s move amounted to an attempt to control the internet.
“It would only be a catastrophe if the state steps into internet to control it,” he said.
The discussion on freedom of speech and expression for this year has already begun in arts and media fraternity after Amol Palekar’s speech at the National Gallery of Modern Arts in February.
The OTT platform has now drawn the attention of the state. While it is a lot easier to censor art, books and cinema, it remains unclear as to how the ministry would certify or censor online content.