The Nagpur Bench of the Bombay High Court has ordered for the setting up of a pre-screening body that would review the content of over-the-top (platforms) such as Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and Hotstar before they are aired on the respective platforms. The court has objected the use of objectionable language, pornographic and sexual content, which are usually banned in most other media platforms.
Netflix's Indian original, Sacred Games, first got into controversy for one of the characters referring to late Prime Minister, Rajiv Gandhi in a derogatory manner, and later for the use of vulgar language. Similarly Alt Balaji's show, Gandi Baat, a take on real-life relationships is laced with pornographic scenes.
Is the Indian audience ready for such content, is it time some regulations are imposed on OTT platforms airing such content? In the West, where there are shows such as House Of Cards, which openly pin-point the government or pornographic content is available easily and the audience are used to consuming such content, the Indian audiences are not used to it. We certainly can't uphold Western benchmarks as the Indian markets behave differently. Keeping this fact in mind, certain boundaries do need to be fixed.
However, the Internet is all about peer-to-peer content and not about family viewing. If a regulation comes through, it could go against the concept of its free-floating design. Also, will imposing regulations really help in curbing objectionable content? "You can't control the kind of content that is being watched, as they are watching on personal devices. A bulk of porn is consumed through platforms such as WhatsApp and there is no way to control that. A serious iron-clad rule for OTT content may not work," points out Vikram Malhotra, MD, Abundantia Entertainment, which made shows such as Breathe for Amazon Prime Video.
In a situation like this, what steps should the OTT platforms take? A show like Inside Edge, on Amazon Prime Video is a story of a voyeuristic cricketer who indulges in match-fixing. A narrative like this, according to a senior content professional, requires the usage of harsh language and suggestive scenes.But content creators need to be responsible and convey to the audiences upfront that their content has vulgar language and may not be appropriate for kids. "Internet is a medium of choices unlike TV, so as content creators we need to set certain self-regulatory norms as we have a responsibility towards our viewers," says Ajay Chacko, Co-Founder Arre.
Malhotra is confident that all OTT platforms are responsible and have self-regulation norms. "It's business for them and they know where their long-term benefit lies."However, if a regulation does come into being, OTT platforms will definitely need to come up with story-telling techniques which are disruptive and are not television #MeToos.