The readily available smartphones, low-cost 4G data and deepening of high-bandwidth internet penetration have widened the scope of the internet economy for OTTs (Over the Tops). Every other app is launching online streaming services, with most of them creating original content. With the vernacularization of OTTs, the consumption has further increased. Moreover, in view of the pandemic and the subsequent lockdowns, the average time spent by Indians on OTTs soared by 40-60% since March 2020. They have rocked every other media platform and are gaining ground even in the remotest of areas. (Especially in tier 2 and tier 3 cities)
So how is this happening?
OTTs unquestionably have numerous advantages over traditional media. Media savvy people in India have been consuming OTT content since its early growth when it was largely English. Presently, more people are becoming content-aware. With vernacularization and perpetual rise of social media and internet marketing, the traffic has been increasing. On-the-go content enthrals people to reach out. Finding a niche is an easy thing now. Binge-watching is a popular trend among millennials and Gen-Z. OTTs were as it is doing decently however lately because of Cinemas being shut, it got a massive boost in viewership.
OTTs are Uncensored
Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC), a statutory film-certification body in the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting is the conventional censor board for films. Broadcasting Content Complaints Council (BCCC), an independent self-regulatory body set-up by the Indian Broadcasting Foundation, in consultation with the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting monitors the content that goes on air via TV. But OTT platforms still are completely uncensored, which remains controversial. The Supreme Court was moved after Delhi High Court took to seek censorship and licensing of OTT companies earlier this year. The government does not have the right to censor internet content.
A move was taken by four players — Hotstar, Voot, Jio, and SonyLiv — to form a Digital Content Complaint Council (DCCC) on the suggestion of government to work out an institutional self-regulatory model similar to traditional media. But streaming platforms including Netflix, Zee5, AltBalaji, Arre, and MX Player opposed.
No censoring encourages creative liberty and pushes for more ideas to get incorporated. Additionally, it allows writers, directors, and producers to experiment. People get to see actuality unadulterated on their screens. The language becomes more colloquial. Visuals and dialogues come closer to reality and are relatable with common parlance. But this artistic liberty with no checks and balances also gets highly misused for commercial benefits.
Violence and Nudity in Indian OTTs
In a big market-driven setup, everything that sells better is produced more. Indian content producers for some OTTs have focused predominantly on just a few genres. Many indigenous series are marked with genres of Crime, Mystery, Thriller, and Drama. Drama is a wholesome term used to encompass almost anything – for euphemism – which also includes erotic, fantasy, and soft porn.
To cater to the adrenaline rush for consumers, specifically the youth, video OTT content is overwhelmed with graphic scenes and adult themes. A large part of online streaming media is R-rated. Although attaining accessibility for teenagers is no big deal. Since all of this go live uncensored, raw scenes and obscenity make an easy passage. Besides some platforms like Fliz, HotShots Digital Entertainment, Ullu, etc. are dedicated to 18+ audiences. These platforms target primarily men who look for stories in porn and porn in stories. Hence they find easy soft porn content on these mediums filled with profanity.
‘Sacred Games’ was the first Indian Original on Netflix. Violence, gore, nudity was far and wide. The same was continued by ‘Mirzapur’ on Amazon Prime. The scene where Bablu Pandit vomited when Guddu fired repeated shots on a man’s stomach and his intestines came out were extremely raw and gruesome. Similar was when Beena Tripathi cut off her house help’s penis and had to do coerced sex with his father-in-law. The very recent ‘Paatal Lok‘ has continued the same legacy. Hathoda Tyagi was beating the head open of his victims with a hammer, which followed gratuitous bloodshed from an open head. They even visualized on-screen the triggering rape of little Cheeni by Shaakal, a paedophile rickshaw puller, disregarding all the artistic ethics and morality. These few examples are just a drop in the bucket. Sexual violence, objectification of women, brutalization of female characters, rapes, and male gaze too occupy a major chunk of screentime on such shows. OTTs are hugely banking on violence, bloodshed, and brutality.
Violence sells, so does sex and vulgarity in the Indian OTT market – serving the longings of the majority young population. With on-demand videos and individual viewing, Erotica has become the selling formula for OTTs. Bold and edgy shows like Gandi Baat, Ragini MMS Returns, Charmsukh, XXX Uncensored, Fuh Se Fantasy, Charitraheen, Mastram are just a few examples in the ocean of similar content. Stories are woven around sex that contains loose characters, unsolicited sexual fantasies, and insane graphic nudity. The liberal, “progressive” and seemingly western stance of creators conflicts with the traditional Indian culture, giving rise to large public discomfort. (mostly to baby boomers and Gen X)
With the rising connectivity and technological advancement, OTTs have a flourishing future in India. Before it gets hegemonized by sex and violence, the need is to direct it on the right path. It is high time that digital streaming platforms develop an effective self-censorship module that could keep their creative integrity sovereign along with maintaining a certain amount of decency and ethics. It is time for self-regulation and asking questions, how much is too much and is it really needed?