KOLKATA: The government’s decision to bring online media, including films content, under the ministry of information and broadcasting has created a stir in Tollywood.
The I&B ministry will also regulate online audio-visual programmes and current affairs content, according to the amendment order signed by President Ram Nath Kovind on Monday. Before this decision was taken, there was no law or autonomous body governing digital content.
While creators, actors and viewers have welcomed the OTT (over-the-top) boom during the pandemic, critics have sniggered at the excessive use of violence, slang and eroticism in the content. Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) chief Prasoon Joshi was “saddened” by a web series titled “Rasbhari” and had tweeted about a scene and asked if it was “freedom of expression” or “freedom of exploitation”. Many believe that content that bypasses CBFC and uses sex and violence to get online viewership shouldn’t enjoy unlimited freedom. They insist that there should be some regulation on OTT platforms.
“Regulations will help in cases where forced nudity, eroticism, violence and use of slangs aren’t organically integrated into the content. But it will be bad news if aesthetic content suffers because of excessive regulations, specially at a time where theatres are shut and the industry is striving on OTT platform,” said Paoli Dam, who has acted in “Kali”, “Bulbul” and “Raat Baki Hain” for online. Birsa Dasgupta, who has directed “Mafia” and “Black Widows” for OTT, thinks this was “inevitable”. “Like always, the one in power wants to monitor and control everything. While a lot of sleaze might get rightly cut, expressing politics through art will definitely suffer if one’s not on the right side. Let’s see how it plays out,” said Dasgupta.
Director Soumik Chattopadhyay, who has directed 10 web series for Hoichoi, is completely against any attempt to curb freedom of expression in art. “We’ve been getting some great online content in Hindi like ‘Scam 1992’, ‘Paatal Lok’ and ‘Family Man’. Talks are on about producing such content in Bengali too. I still don’t know how much will be regulated. It will become problematic if the new order and the subsequent decision insist on regulating and eclipsing edgy content that’s anti-establishment or questions religion and politics,” said the director of “Hello” Season 2 and Season 3, “Byomkesh” Season 2 and Season 4 and “Tansenser Tanpura” Season 1 and Season 2.
Rajiv Mehra, the managing director of Addatimes, has now become “cautious” about the kind of content he will commission for his OTT platform. In 2016, he had done good business by releasing a detective web series that was controversially titled. “We all know that this kind of content gets a lot of hits. Early this year, I had released another crime web series called ‘Sin’ that investigated the death of a girl. However, under the current circumstances, I will not want to make any investment on such content,” Mehra said. Unless there is clarity on what will be allowed and if there will be a separate guideline for OTT, he will only go for “clean content that doesn’t have much of violence or sex”.
Incidentally, online content had given interesting roles to actresses willing to push the envelope. This new decision has come at a time when the doors have just started opening. A Hindi series like “Four More Shots Please!” on Amazon Prime about four unapologetically flawed women or “Aarya” that saw Sushmita Sen making an impressive comeback as an inadvertent drug lord in the Disney+ Hotstar series have opened new doors for female actors. Bengali online content has started taking babysteps too. In recent times, Swastika Mukherjee’s “Tasher Ghawr” about a bored homemaker during the pandemic on Hoichoi has thrown up interesting comments. “Online content has been addressing women’s rights and issues in different formats and genres. That could be thriller or even comedy. It will be bad if regulations put a break to this effort,” Dam said.
Independent director Ronny Sen, whose film on Kolkata’s brown sugar addicts titled “Cat Sticks” is on MUBI, says trying to gag artists will never work. “Regulations doesn’t stop artists. Look at Iran. Art is essential. It will come out no matter what. It is absurd to even think that a country like India can have a separate censor board to regulate the huge volume of online content. The self-regulation by OTT players, which is already existent, will be the long-term solution,” Sen said.