Video streaming platforms that were already treading with care when it came to tackling political or religious themes in the originals commissioned by them, have now found themselves in the soup with films that have released in theatres after censor board approval coming on the radar once on OTT. So far, mainstream
theatrical films were being seen as a safer bet given that they were already exposed to wider audiences and passed by the censor board, but the recent takedown of Tamil film.
Annapoorani-The Goddess of Food by Netflix after a backlash from Hindu groups has rendered streaming platforms vulnerable. Content creators and streaming platforms are now fearing a separate certification and censorship process for OTT content, signs of which are already present in portions of the draft broadcast bill.
The Nayanthara-starrer that was cleared by the censor board and had released in cinemas in December was removed from the streaming platform on producer Zee Studios’ request after members of hard-line Hindu groups objected to the plot that is centered around a Hindu Brahmin woman going against her family’s religious beliefs to cook and eat meat. Some scenes, including one where the actor is shown offering namaz before making biryani, have been accused of hurting religious sentiments.
Streaming platforms have anyway stopped experimenting and touching themes related to politics or religion. Incidents like this will only ensure that no innovation will take place on OTT, as has been the case with television for several years. But it’s a very tricky situation because so far, everyone thought it makes sense to take a film to theatres first as censor board approval acts as a shield,” said a senior executive at a streaming on condition of anonymity.
“The ongoing debate over creative freedom versus controversy intensifies with the introduction of The Broadcasting Services (Regulation) Bill, 2023 in November. This bill mandates that OTT platforms align with traditional broadcasting regulations, sparking discussions on its potential impact on licensed content,” Gaurav Sahay, practice head (technology and general corporate), Fox Mandal & Associates, agreed.
To be sure, film trade experts pointed to instances of films having been opposed by religious, political and other groups despite censor board clearance over the past few years. For instance, several Rajput caste organizations had protested against period drama Padmaavat, claiming that the film portrays Padmavati, a Rajput queen, in a bad light. Many states had even banned the film. However, an executive of another streaming platform said this is a unique situation as services like theirs have no creative control over films that have released in theatres and in this case, had a smooth, uncontroversial run.
“It isn’t feasible for us to sit and watch every film that we acquire. The assumption is it has been cle-ared by the censor board and we accept the version given to us by producers. With our own originals, it’s a completely different issue,” the person said, on condition of anonymity.
In the past, OTT originals such as Tandav, Leila, Aashram and Sacred Games have courted controversy and scrutiny with the Amazon Prime Video team even changing portions of after FIRs and I&B intervention.
“The said certification under the 1952 Act, however, has thus far not regulated the content, including feature films, being broadcast on OTT platforms. The said controversy, has therefore, provided an avenue to ensure that a designated authority is established to specifically look into the certification of feature films on OTT platforms. The Broadcasting Services (Regulation) Bill, 2023, aims to bridge this gap by means of a Programme Code that is to be prescribed by the ministry of information and broadcasting,” Karanjawala said.
The said Programme Code can provide for a larger basis of factors that ought to be considered while certifying films and may in the future, minimize the chances of such controversies coming to the fore, she added.
“The State, as well as the other stakeholders, will however, have to tread a thin line while providing for such regulations given that they have a tendency of restricting creative freedom and expression, a cherished legal and fundamental right,” she pointed out. LiveMint