By Shivangi Bhatawadekar
In the recent years OTT platforms have been gaining popularity amongst the viewers. They show variety of critically acclaimed which, in conventional entertainment mediums like theatres and television, would not be showcased.
There are many OTT platforms currently in the country like Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Zee5, Alt Balaji, Hotstar etc.
The viewers are attracted to these platforms for the content they show. It is way different from the regular movies and daily soap dramas shown in theatres and television.
The content in these platforms is said to be more realistic, engrossing, contemporary and experimental. There is a positive reception to such content among the viewers.
However, apart from the positive response for the realistic approach, the makers, actors and the web series in itself, is also subjected to negative backlash for pragmatic portrayal of sensitive issues in the society. The most recent one to face this is Anushka Sharma Production “Paatal Lok”.
Paatal Lok is a crime thriller web series which aired on Amazon Prime Video on 15th May 2020. The plot mainly consists of a high- profile case which turns into a mystery, later revealing the darker side of the society we live in.
Since its premiere, this series, much like the others, has gone into various controversies. With critical acclamation and positive reception throughout the audiences, it has also been severely criticised for many reasons.
There were three major controversies that this web series ran into:
Using BJP MLA’s picture without his consent.
BJP MLA Nandkishor Gurjar had filed a complaint against the show’s producer Anushka Sharma for using his photograph in the series without his permission.
In the original photo, UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath was inaugurating a highway and Gurjar was in the background. In the web series, Yogi Adityanath’s picture was morphed.
He also accused the makers of showing the Gurjar community in bad light by portraying the community as dacoits and engagers in illegal acts.
Complaints of the Sikh Community
Majinder Singh Sirsa, president of the Delhi Sikh Guradwara Management Committee, expressed his disappointment about the portrayal of Sikhs in the series.
In one of the scenes, one Sikh man is raping a woman in front of her family while her helpless family members can’t help her. Many people also said that this scene was maligning Sikhs as they never rape women.
Complaints from the Gorkha Community
In one of the scenes, a Nepali slur was used against a woman character of Meghalayan origin. The youth wing of Bhartiya Gorkha Parisangh, i.e. the Bhartiya Gorkha Yuva Parisangh raised complaints against this scene.
They demanded muting of the slur and removal of the corresponding sub-title. They issued a concern saying that the usage of the slur insults the community and the Nepali language. They also stated that the scene was stereotypical against the people of Northeast and aggravates the racism already faced by them.
All the three complainants asked for the intervention of the Information and Broadcasting Minister Prakash Javdekar into the respective issues and also sought for a ban on the series.
Apart from these specific complaints, many others accused the series for being Hindu-phobic, anti-national, stereo-typical, glorifying beef-eating and also for maligning the youth of the country. Many people started #BanPaatalLok in order to show disapproval towards the series.
In Gurdeepinder Singh Dhillon vs Union of India and Ors , the petitioner filed a petition to censor the web series. The series, in this petition is accused of being anti-social, vulgar, abusive, oppressive, and anti-national. It also contends that women are portrayed in a derogatory manner.
The merit of the complaints
The makers of the show have defended that whatever they have tried to portray is inspired from real life. The complaints and the criticism for the show, too, definitely have some merit and credibility which is why the makers had to change some scenes.
They changed the picture which allegedly showed a BJP MLA and also later muted the Nepali slur.
While portraying the reality, it must be ensured that nothing gravely objectionable is shown. Printing derogatory matter is a criminal offence under Sec. 501 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860.
The picture of Nandkishor Gurjar was used in the corruption and caste concept. This, if found derogatory, can be a serious offence.
The Sikh community has been specifically felt victimized in the negative sense regarding their portrayal. The rape scene portrayed the oppression of the lower caste people by the higher caste.
However, that portrayal affected the Sikh community. They believe their morals are high and Sikhs never rape, So, the rape scene triggered them. This is not the first time their religious sentiment was hurt.
When Sacred Games was released on Netflix, there was much criticism around the scene where a ‘kada’, a religious ornament which should never be removed, was removed and thrown.
There is, in reality, unfortunate discrimination practised against people of the North east region. This needs to be addressed. OTT platforms is a good way to address the issue, but if the content on such platforms itself is found to be defamatory, then the purpose isn’t served.
Even though this series has tried to portray the negative and evil side of the society, which they have admitted too, certain depiction triggered a section of the society. Hence this controversy became as important as it is now.
The Censorship Debate
Article 19 of the Constitution of India gives the freedom of speech and expression to all its citizens. A way of exercising this right is by writing literature, making films, documentaries, television programs etc.
While exercising this right there is a possibility of inclusion of some triggering content which would upset certain sections of the society.
Or there can also be inclusion of some content which is not socially acceptable. In order to regulate such content and discourage the negative use of such a right, there have been censorship laws and measures in the country.
The censorship of films comes under the Central Board of Film Certification which is set up under the Cinematographic Act, 1952. This board certifies films and documentaries by the sort of audience it can be shown to.
There are many cases where this board has gone into conflict with film makers over the certification a movie has received. The earliest instances of this can be the criminal charges faced by Raj Kapoor  for his film Satyam Shivam Sundaram.
In this case, the Court held that even though the CBFC granted a certification, the courts have an authority to interfere if the need be. They also allowed the appeal of Raj Kapoor who was facing criminal charges for allegedly promoting sexual content in his film. Since then, many movies have been allegedly wrongly certified and some have been banned.
Television content is also censored quite implicitly on TV. TV is a source of mass media in India. It is something that is watched by the entire family together. Hence, the content shown on TV is made sure to be very shielded and conservative.
Anything objectionable seen on TV can be immediately reported to the Broadcasting Content Complaints Council (BCCC). In 2017, a TV show ‘Pehredar Piya Ki’ was criticised for depicting child marriage.
It received much negative reception for the influence it may create on the society and hence was stopped.
However, there is no such censorship for online OTT platforms. Hence, all the content that can not be shown in mainstream platforms are shown on these online platforms.
However, in the recent times, there has been a lot of debate over the censorship of web series as many have found the content of such to be violent, sexually explicit and stereotypical to a particular community.
The need for regulating content on OTT platforms has been the core of many writ petitions. In fact, regulation of content was the main plea in Justice for Rights Foundation vs Union of India .
The Ministry of Electronics and Information contended that OTT platforms are governed by the provisions of the IT Act, 2000 and hence there is no need for a separate regulation or censorship board.
As long as the provisions of IT Act are not violated, there is no need for regulation of online content.
Hence, the Court dismissed the petition. Similar stand was taken by the court in Nikhil Bhalla vs Union of India . Apart from these, there are many individual cases filed against specific scenes of different web series.
The Preauction taken
In order to present unconventional content and also not hurt any sentiment, OTT platforms have sought to self-regulation. They have signed a self-censorship code, the Code of Best Practices for online curated content providers.
It is done so in order to prevent the showcasing of anything that may hurt any religious, national, communal sentiment. Netflix, Hotstar, Voot, Zee5, Arre, SonyLiv, ALT Balaji and Eros Now have signed this code of self-regulation.
Amazon Prime India has dissented to it. It believes that the current laws in India regarding the online content are sufficient enough to regulate, there is no need of any extra regulation.
OTT platforms are not as regulate as other media platforms. So, freedom of speech and expression is more freely practiced. This is good news for makers.
However, they should also look into the fact that over-realistic depiction doesn’t trigger the audience. The freedom to show content must not be misused. While showcasing realistic content, its implications on various types of viewers, must also be anticipated.
This controversy is important as it states the need for a difference between realism and intense provocation. There must be a line drawn which should not be crossed. Even while portraying the cultural, religious and caste differences, it should not be extremely defamatory to any particular section.
From the viewer’s perspective, we must try to understand the mindset of the makers rather than just blankly commenting. There can be cases of triggering content, but we must also understand when the content is triggering and when is just usage of cinematic liberty.
- paatal lok controversies everything that has happened
- CWP-8089-2020 ↑
- Raj Kapoor and Ors vs State and Ors, 1980, AIR 258 ↑
- W.P. (C) 11164/2018 ↑
- W.P. (C) 7123/2018, CM Appl. 27132/2018 ↑