Actor Saif Ali Khan headlines Ali Abbas Zafar’s web show Tandav.
Actor Saif Ali Khan headlines Ali Abbas Zafar’s web show Tandav.

Tandav bows down: Is censorship the way forward for OTT?

As makers of the web show Tandav agree to censor out scenes which have allegedly hurt religious sentiments, and objections being raised at shows such as A Suitable Boy and Ashram, we talk to industry experts and makers about whether this could be the beginning of potential censorship on OTT platforms.
By Rishabh Suri
UPDATED ON JAN 21, 2021 03:56 PM IST

Censorship: this word, of late, has been creating headlines. First, it was films coming under it’s radar, and now, it seems to be OTT content as well.

The latest instance is Tandav, the web show starring Saif Ali Khan in the lead and set against the backdrop of Indian politics. One scene has particularly caught the attention of many people, which shows actor Mohd Zeeshan Ayyub playing the role of (a modern day) Lord Shiva in a college play. Netizens have alleged that it hurts religious sentiments. Another scene involves characters played by Anuup Sonii and Sandhya Mridul, and the two talk about castes.

The outrage is such that the makers have issued a statement, agreeing to “implement changes” accordingly. Does this point towards censorship being the way forward for OTT platforms?

Actor-filmmaker Renuka Shahane, who directed Tribhanga recently, says that though she is “totally against censorship”, “You can’t curtail any kind of outrage that happens these days. Everybody is just out there to get hurt. In saying that, I have to say that we as makers also have to see to it that we follow the laws in our constitution and law. One should not put out anything that hurts anybody’s religious sentiments. I think we all should be very mindful of that.”

In the recent past, shows such as A Suitable Boy and Ashram too have been alleged to have hurt sentiments. Vani Tripathi Tikoo, Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) member, says that she has often argued that the lens of film certification should not be used for OTT. “Theatre viewing is a collective exercise, and watching OTT more personalised. But in Covid times, families have been sitting and watching them together. As far as regulating is concerned, there are no industry standards, no regulatory code put in place. This means that the streaming services themselves have not taken cognizance of the responsibility that they should be a part of,” she says.

Adding that while we shouldn’t be censoring, solely age certification doesn’t work. Tikoo explains other countries follow this. “United Kingdom, Singapore, even some European countries have some kind of code and industry standard put together for digital content. You cannot dissociate from that responsibility in a hyper sensitive democracy like India,” she says.

Telling the story in the right way is what people are emphasizing on. Joining the list is Apurva Asrani, who has written acclaimed films such as Aligarh (2015), Shahid (2013) and the latest season of Criminal Justice. He says, “I don’t believe in censorship for any kind of content. In a democracy, you should be able to tell your story the way you see it. Someone with another point of view has the right to counter that with a story told in a similar format. I feel that is a healthy way a democracy should work. Having said that, I also believe the approach I have usually with my work, they all are sensitive topics that could have easily gone into a place of controversy or outrage, fortunately they haven’t. I’d like to believe it’s because their makers, me included, are all sensitive about it being balanced in what we are saying. We don’t want to appear to attack one side.”

Pritish Nandy, producer of the show Four More Shots Please! says that when the state backs a point of view, generally “most people fall in line” he elaborates, “It does not necessarily mean that what they are doing is right, it means that people do not want to face the consequences of taking on the might of the state. The problem with censorship is that it again isolates us from the global scene, that works with minimal censorship. If India wants to compete in that space, then it must learn to do with minimal censorship. That can apply only in matters of state security.”

Interact with the author on Twitter/ @RishabhSuri02

Follow @htshowbiz on Twitter

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