From Amazon Prime Video to Netflix: OTT platforms and their tryst with controversies

When the OTT streaming platforms came to India, the controversies followed. Because, what followed was an unabashed abuse and misuse of the medium in the name of creative liberty! The main themes of many OTT streaming serials were gore, violence, sex. The same old Hindi belt Baahubali films, which used to fail by the dozen at the box office, were rehashed with stress on sex and violence.

Were the makers suffering from deprivation or did they think the viewer was? Every next such serial went on to outdo the previous one in depicting all that was undesirable. Did these makers have a target audience in mind? Far from it, since the content was meant for a family audience to be viewed within the four walls of a home!

Streaming platforms may have business interests all over the world, but no country offers such a huge chunk of consumer base as India does. As things stand today, Indians are more sensitive to certain kind of content. Especially, anti-national or anti-religious content that provokes the masses to react instantly. Also, India is a country with myriad ways of life, sentiments and beliefs.

In an event when a film, TV serial or steaming platform content goes against their sentiments or belief, reactions can rise from any corner of India. Court petitions are a norm. The law says that once a film is passed by the CBFC (Central Board of Film Certification), a court of law can't be moved against it. However, this has not deterred people from getting a film entangled in a legal case. Despite the explicit law to the contrary, the courts pay heed to such cases, otherwise what follows is violence.

The first OTT film to draw the ire of the public as well as Indian Air Force personnel was Gunjan Saxena: The Kargil Girl. The content was said to be based on lies, it was said to have twisted facts and was derogatory to the Air Force. The controversy did not go beyond TV debates, nor did it help the film generate any more viewers as some controversies do.

The recent and more serious case was that of Tandav, which released on Amazon Prime on January 15 this year. Tandav makers were accused of portraying Hindu gods as well as the Prime Minister of India in a bad light. Not only was a police FIR filed but the matter was also taken up at the ministerial level. The Amazon team was asked for an explanation by the I&B ministry. Apologies were sought and duly provided. The scenes hurting the sentiments of people were removed.

This finally led I&B Ministry to introduce some checks on the OTT medium. This seems to have led to a change in the film content-buying policy of OTT platforms. After all, these platforms, reeling out content on a regular basis, can't afford to have a government appointed CBFC kind of body to check their content. That would lead to a lot of red tape and delays leading to uncertainties.

Hence, what looks like a safety valve, the OTT platforms have decided that the films they buy are first censored and also released theatrically. Unlike earlier, only censored films will be aired on OTT. If issues and objections are raised, they will happen before the OTT release. The recent film, Mumbai Saga, went through a theatrical release first and will now premiere on OTT, probably on April 13, on Gudi Padwa, which is the Marathi New Year’s day.

The films released on OTT so far have neither brought them glory nor, in all probability, returns worth their while. That would also be a reason why these platforms have to embark on backing their own film projects with face value and themes that work. Besides, with the closure of cinema outlets for over a year as well as slowdown in the production sector, streaming platforms will eventually run out of supply. Getting into production will ensure a regular flow.

Meanwhile, Neflix, which has acquired the OTT rights of Sooryavanshi, seems to have waited long enough for the film to hit the screens so as to follow it up with an OTT release. However, the film release has been postponed many times and, as the Covid-19 situation stands today, it is getting worse by the day, and the fear of another lockdown of cinema stares in the face. Netflix is reported to have set the OTT release of Sooryavanshi for May 28 notwithstanding its theatre release.

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