From the time cavemen first started doodling on walls, they were the original mind expanders. They broadened our experience and took us into a realm of heightened awareness. They inform, inspire, and incite us even today. And as anyone who has fought off sleep to catch a few more episodes of their favourite series will testify - they can be hopelessly addictive.
No wonder the government wants to control them. The decision to bring films and content shown by online content providers under the I&B Ministry is creating waves. Creators and viewers are eager to see exactly how this will affect them.
This could mean applying for certification - and approval - of the content that will be streamed. Does this mean no more 'gaalis'? No hardcore violence? Also, should the government control 'storytelling'? Can they? Or is it the viewer who dictates what gets made and what is shown? And which is better?
When Doordarshan was the only channel, government control was higher. During this time, we got an array of diverse shows. The family saga of Hum Log, the quirky Karamchand, the intense Tamas, and the charming Malgudi Days. Readers who have grown up in that era will no doubt add many more of their own. And this is not just sheer nostalgia talking. Some of these shows are streaming online right now. And yes, some haven't aged well, but others are still quite riveting.
Today the power has shifted to the viewer, and the viewers are fickle. Our changing tastes create waves of content. A wave of saas-bahu dramas followed by a wave of the supernatural, and now, on OTT, what feels like a wave of the explicit, expletive-laden gritty dramas. But we will tire of that as well.
Today, we have an endless choice and will not hesitate to exercise it. We do not care whether the content we consume has been vetted by the government. The competition to catch our eye, and capture our hearts and minds is increasing. Just think of the increasing number of remotes at hand when we sit down to 'watch TV'. If there's nothing on satellite TV, we can switch to OTT. Nothing there? Connect to the screen to a gaming console. Not in the mood? Well, then switch on the mobile and lose yourself in the latest dance challenges or cooking videos or the like. Each medium is evolving its own form of storytelling. We are beginning to learn how to navigate this complex maze. How will the government think about how to regulate it all?
Finally, there is a reflex action to the idea of 'government approved' content. It immediately brings to mind boring black and white documentaries we had to endure at cinemas before films began, or as fillers on Doordarshan.
In complete contrast, there are these two films. The first is 'Om Dar B Dar'. It's politely described by IMDB as 'a carefully constructed nonsense about a teenage boy named Om in a small Indian village'. It's an experimental film unlike any other - surreal, absurd and totally engrossing movie, for some, whilst others have complained of severe headaches after watching it. The second is 'Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron'. The 'Sholay' of independent movies - everybody knows some of its legendary dialogues. While 'Om Dar B Dar' lives on only in some DVDs, 'Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron' can be found on some OTT platforms even today. Both were produced by NFDC - an agency of the I&B Ministry, which now has control over OTT content.
Will they exercise that control only to censor stuff that might offend? Or will they use the power to unleash a new wave of creativity?
The story can go either way. But as one of Pixar's rules of storytelling goes: 'You admire a character more for trying than for their successes'. Stay tuned!
(The author is Chief Creative Partner, Daiko FHO.)