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Immaturity of mature content! Is reigning in the Animal in OTT world a constructive way forward in 2024?

Both Animal and regulations in broadcast world conjure a sense of control and curbs on our fundamental rights, especially, when it comes to digital – the big bad Animal of entertainment in town. The latest Animal released in Bollywood has intensified the debate. The Indian viewers have never been so clearly divided. It even has impacted the Babudum and they say, “Heads have rolled.” Before we debate the ills of a free-for-all play of mature content, let us examine the scenario we live in and my own bias toward allowing adult and mature content in India through conditional access. I must also mention my fond memories of having signed an MoU with Playboy Inc way back in 2005 to stream in India. I was even willing to underwrite about an extra Rs. 5000 crore in taxation annually for the government. It was phenomenal those days as I had argued India consumes billions of dollars’ worth adult content, which is unregulated, freely available on the streets, via cable TV and WWW. Why must we not regulate it, ensure adult access when we know we cannot stop it and create a formal industry as is the case worldwide? Perhaps, we as an Industry are not mature enough to accept the reality of having to live in the Indian society, with the visiting card stating in the business of adult content! The debate around mature content and regulations in the broadcast world, particularly in the digital realm, has become more intense with the release of a controversial film in Bollywood. The Indian audience is divided, and even the government has taken action. However, before discussing the drawbacks of unrestricted mature content, let us examine the current scenario and my personal bias toward allowing adult content in India with certain conditions. I have fond memories of signing an MoU with Playboy Inc in 2005 to stream their content in India. I even offered to contribute an additional Rs. 5000 crore in taxation annually to the government. I argued that India already consumes a significant amount of unregulated adult content through various channels, such as cable TV and the internet. Instead of trying to stop it, why not regulate it and create a formal industry, as is the case worldwide? Perhaps, as an industry, we are not mature enough to accept the reality of being associated with adult content.

The discussion around mature content brings the right to choose into the spotlight. But does the right to choose mean the right to produce socially and religiously offensive content? We may have the right to like guns, but do we have the right to manufacture and own guns? We may not agree with certain religious practices, but is it legal to produce content that abuses other religions? For example, the Parsi community places their dead at the Tower of Silence to be eaten by birds, which may be revolting to many, but is it legal to produce content that offends followers of such customs and faiths in India? While consensual sex among adults is permissible, soliciting sex or engaging in commercial sex is illegal. The Indian Constitution grants freedom of religion, but does it permit the production and broadcast of any form of content that is offensive or abusive to other faiths? I fought against adult content in the famous Kavita Nethani vs Zee (Zee MGM) case. However, it is important to note that all pre-censored international films must be recertified in India for television, and a film programming code must be submitted to the Directorate of Film Certification (DFC) a month in advance. In India, there are more pressing issues to worry about than fighting censorship of adult content. India has a young population, with about 70 percent under the age of 32. It also has the highest number of telephony users in the world, with a majority being teenagers and young adults who are easily influenced. These young minds are being systematically poisoned, leading to an increase in crimes against women. Social media is filled with instances of women being forced into sexual acts, filmed, and then blackmailed. Tragic incidents like these have found their way onto social media and destroyed lives. Moreover, Hinduism is the largest religion in India, and it finds such content sacrilegious and offensive. This abuse has the potential to incite aggression within different sections of society. Vested interests often use such content to fuel communal tension and incite religious or racial riots. While Hinduism, its gods, and icons have been constant targets of abuse by various fringe groups and individuals, the response from the law, social groups, religious sects, and the administrative system is much stronger when non-Hindu faiths are targeted.

In recent years, the rise of over-the-top (OTT) platforms in India has changed the way people consume entertainment. Along with movies, TV shows, and documentaries, these platforms have also made pornographic content more accessible. This note aims to explore the social impact of such content on Indian society.

  1. Influence on attitudes and behaviors. The easy accessibility of pornographic content on Indian OTT platforms raises concerns about its impact on individuals’ attitudes and behaviors. Research suggests that exposure to explicit content can shape perceptions of sexuality, leading to unrealistic expectations and potentially harmful behaviors. This can have a profound impact on relationships, self-esteem, and mental health.
  2. Objectification and gender stereotypes. Pornographic content often objectifies women and reinforces gender stereotypes. By presenting women primarily as objects of sexual desire, it contributes to the normalization of gender inequality and the commodification of women’s bodies. This can have detrimental effects on society, promoting sexism, 3. Impact on relationships. The consumption of pornographic content can also affect intimate relationships. Excessive exposure to explicit material may create unrealistic expectations of sexual performance, causing dissatisfaction and strain within relationships. It is important to foster open communication and establish healthy boundaries to ensure that both partners’ needs and desires are met.
  3. Psychological effects. Studies have shown that excessive consumption of pornography can lead to addiction-like behaviors and desensitization. This can result in individuals seeking more extreme and violent content to achieve the same level of arousal, potentially distorting their perception of healthy sexual relationships and intimacy.
  4. Legal and ethical considerations. The presence of pornographic content on Indian OTT platforms raises legal and ethical concerns. India has strict laws governing the production, distribution, and consumption of explicit material. The presence of such content on OTT platforms may violate these laws, leading to potential legal consequences for both the platforms and the viewers.

While the availability of pornographic content on Indian OTT platforms may provide a sense of freedom and choice, it is crucial to consider its social impact. The normalization of explicit material can have far-reaching consequences on individuals, relationships, and society. It is essential for policymakers, content creators, and consumers to engage in discussions and take steps to ensure responsible content consumption and protect the well-being of individuals and communities.

The author is currently the chief marketing officer,  Hero Realty (Hero Enterprise).

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