Earlier this week, the Government issued an order that brings online news portals and digital content providers under the purview of the Ministry Of Information And Broadcasting. The order states that 'Films and Audio-Visual programmes made available by online content providers' will now come under the ministry. This means that content produced by India's growing roster of OTT platforms, such as Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and Disney+ Hotstar, could face new restrictions on the kind of content they can create and release.
Gautam Talwar, Chief Content Officer at MX Player, says platforms like his are already self-regulated and careful about the content they produce. "We are an extremely responsible platform. Whatever we are doing is up to a certain level, a certain standard, he says. On what this could mean for the future, Talwar says it's unclear. "We don't know the impact right now. But it may shift a little bit of the storytelling narrative that we have been doing for some time."
There are no details about what these shifts may look like, but several digital creators don't seem too pleased about the development.
What Could This Mean?
The streaming world is seen as a space where creators are unburdened by the censorship restrictions of theatrical releases. Here you can tell stories no one else will, with the freedom to use violence, nudity and expletives. One still doesn't know how much of a threat this new order could be to these freedoms. Following the announcement, a number of creators and filmmakers took to social media to express their outrage with the decision to regulate content.
Is This Political?
A leading creator on the web, who didn't want to be named, feels that the decision isn't aimed at curbing simple freedoms such as showing nudity, swearing and violence. Instead he believes it's a larger move to curb stories that question the government.
"This is purely political. The objective is not to censor language or nudity because there is no way they can censor ALL international content and platforms, right? This is about putting an end to all content/ ideas /stories that question the government, its policies, and its ideologies. This is one more step to quell dissent," he says.
The First Signs Of Trouble
Since the start of the OTT explosion in India in 2018 many streaming shows and movies have sparked outrage and faced targeted boycott campaigns on social media. Both Sacred Games (2018) and Leila (2019) faced online backlash with many claiming they were 'Anti-Hindu' propaganda. There was even a petition filed demanding that certain scenes from Sacred Games on Netflix be deleted as they allegedly defamed late Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, which was ultimately unsuccessful.
In June this year, the release of Telugu feature Krishna and His Leela led to #BoycottNetflix trending on Twitter. The outrage was a result of the male protagonist named 'Krishna' having intimate relations with several women, including one named 'Radha'.
Fellow streaming giant Amazon Prime Video has faced its share of hate too. Paatal Lok garnered much online hate for hurting religious sentiments.
Even their show Mirzapur came under fire last month. The hate was aimed at producer Farhan Akhtar and lead actor Ali Fazal, both of whom tweeted in support of the Anti-Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019 (CAA), protests in December. And most recently, the Akshay Kumar-led Laxmmi Bomb on Disney+ Hotstar had its title changed to Laxmmi.