It is true that censorship has spared OTT content so far. But films are indeed censored. And, logically, OTT platforms should show the same film footage that is screened in cinemas after being cleared by Censors. They are not.
The I&B Ministry had observed that the OTT platforms were getting carried away with the content they showed. There were complaints and the platforms and the content providers were taking advantage of the fact that there was no censorship for OTT content.
A few months ago, a private member's bill to set up a regulatory authority for OTT platforms was introduced in Parliament because these platforms were showing violent, abusive and vulgar content.
Earlier in March this year, the Delhi High Court had observed that the content of an OTT serial, 'College Romance', had "obscene, lascivious and profane content." The Court asked the government to take appropriate steps.
These OTT platforms are needling the authorities again. They are said to have decided to show films adding the footage deleted by the Censor Board for their theatrical release. This is in total disregard of the laws of the land and makes the existence of the Board irrelevant.
Some major OTT platforms have decided to include censored scenes from a film's theatrical prints in the OTT version to draw more viewership. Reportedly, the films include the recently released 'Pathaan', 'OMG2' and 'Jawan'. So far there is no law to censor OTT content but there have been warnings from the ministry concerned for the OTT platforms to practise restraint.
So, why are the OTT platforms provoking and taking the authorities for granted? That is because the authorities only issue warnings, never act. It has been seven years now since OTT streaming made its entry into India and at the very onset, the authorities needed to act when serials such as 'Sacred Games' were streamed.
Sex and violence seemed to be the mainstay of these programmes. If the government wants children and grownups alike to watch 'Sacred Games', it might as well unblock porn sites!
If these platforms start showing uncensored versions of films, morever, it could lead to viewers waiting for a film to stream on OTT rather than watch it in a cinema.
Clearly, the Censor Board has its limitations when it comes to OTT, but in the best of times, it likes to make media headlines -- usually for the wrong reasons.
Filmmakers and actors are always wary of locking horns with the government, whether at the Centre or in the states. The fear of victimisation has been drilled into their minds, first by the British rulers and then by the powers that be. This fear is not unfounded.
So what made the South Indian actor/producer Vishal come out in the open and accuse the Censor Board of corruption? Vishal claims that he needed the Censor Certificate (CC) on an urgent basis and for that, he was asked to shell out Rs 6.5 lakh to grease the palms of the people concerned.
A price tag for a CC is not a new thing; it has always existed. A producer never went to the Censor Board office. It was a practice to delegate that work to an agent. The Censors needed a copy of the script, which this agent translated. It was a formality aimed to add to the red tape. I don't know if a regional officer or an examining committee (the one formed to watch the film for approval) ever read a script. The amount was reported to be Rs 50,000 at a time when films were made in budgets of lakhs.
The corruption and blackmail tags has always been attached to CBFC. It is now that a producer announces the release date of his film much in advance. For years in the past, no producer dared to announce his film's release date because that would upset the CBFC. How, the CBFC would demand, could the release date be announced without a CC?
So, the trade magazine that announced the release dates of films started to print a rider at the top of the release date list: Subject To Censor!
A CC meant a lot not only for public screenings, but also for a film's prints to be exported to overseas markets. Here was yet another red tape. A film did not need a CC for export because each country where the prints were exported had its own censorship policies. But you still needed a CC because the Customs accepted only the footage certified by the Censor Board as valid! How a film's footage mattered is still an unanswered question!
Vishal claims that he paid Rs 6.6 lakh to someone who had been assured that CC would be issued on the same day the application was made. His release date was looming on him. The Censor authorities said that they have no such people on their staff with whom Vishal was in touch.
The question that remains hanging is how did these people who took the money operate from the offices of the Censor Board? And if money did not talk and influence the office, how was the certificate issued on the same day as requested by Vishal.
The Minister said that the whole process is online now. So? How does that rule out corruption? There is this filmmaker, Ramesh Vyas, who, in a media interview claimed that he had to cough up Rs 5 lakh to get the CC for his sports-based film, 'Love All'.
The film was in five languages but not all the versions were issued certificates simultaneously. Two versions were cleared only two days after the release! Isn't it the rule that when one version is cleared, the Board is meant to check the other versions only if the dialogues are twisted!
Vyas has submitted his Kannada film, 'Ronny', seeking a certificate. He got dates for film viewing three times, but the film is yet to be watched by the examining committee. The online status says "application under process"!
The CBFC has been and continues to be an extortion adda and because a producer has crores at stake, they know the art of blackmail!
The Ministry has now decided to step in. I&B Minister Anurag Thakur has called a meeting of CBFC office-bearers, the current chief Prasoon Jooshi, the ex-chief, Pahlaj Nihalani and the representatives of the Film & Television Producers Guild of India. The agenda is to stop corruption in the Board.
Something Auspicious About December?
Diwali can accommodate at least two new film releases, if not more. A lot many films have been released during the Diwali period. The period of over a month before that is said to be inappropriate -- the Shraddhas, Navaratras and the pre-Diwali phase.
To add to those deterrents, consider the 45-day ODI World Cup that India is hosting. These matches are telecast for about nine hours a day and it is not wise to plan a release during this period. Yet, we have one film, 'Mission Raniganj', daring to brave it all, having been released on October 5.
The sequel to the Salman Khan-starrer 'Tiger' is slated for a Diwali release when the ODI World Cup will be in its climactic phase with finals to be played. 'Tiger' has a strong brand value and, hopefully, it will stand its own against this opposition.
What is strange is that after 'Tiger', there is no new film releasing through the rest of November. December, on the other hand, is crowded with two films pitted against each other every week!
On December 1, Ranbir Kapoor's 'Animal' will face Vicky Kaushal's 'Sam Bahadur', followed by 'Merry Christmas' and 'Yoddha' on the third Friday, and Shah Rukh Khan's 'Dunky' will vie with Prabhas's 'Salaar'.
Why can't these releases be phased out? There is not much action in the offing from December 28 to January 24, when Hrithik Roshan's 'Fighter' is due.