Wednesday, 20 April 2016

Why Are Indian Producers Obsessed With Self-Censorship?

A couple weeks ago, Neeraj Ghaywan discovered that his film Masaan had been censored on the Internet. Strangely enough, this wasn't even the theatrically censored version of Masaan that was streaming on Hotstar, the streaming service which had the rights to the content. This was a re-censored version of his film. Masaan was originally rated 'A', or adults only. The re-certified version streaming on Hotstar was rated U/A. To get that certification, it had to go through several cuts.

Anurag Kashyap, one of Masaan's producers, eventually tweeted that it was better to watch a pirated version of the film than to watch the "mutilated" version on Hotstar. That tweet has since been deleted.

As it turns out, Star, the streaming service's parent company, always requires producers to give them a U/A-rated cut of films, so that they can be broadcast on TV. Hotstar uploads this same cut on the internet. 

This is strange, as the Central Board of Film Certification does not require any content on the Internet to be censored (finish reading this post before you oppose this statement). There is no media law in India that regulates cinema ratings online. Therefore, any film can be released uncensored online. But Hotstar chose to avoid using this freedom (as they admit in the HuffPo article linked above). Drishyam Films did not question their requirements and re-certified the film.

Having "Hot" in their name is just misleading at this point.
This sort of unnecessary self-censorship by studios is not new. And it's not even restricted to distribution in India. Hansal Mehta's Shahid, for example, is censored internationally on Netflix. The same applies for a number of Indian films that are available on Netflix. Indian studios are censoring themselves internationally, and on the Internet.

In fact, this censorship can also be seen in the most unexpected of places--The Viral Fever. Their app TVFPlay has the film Angry Indian Goddesses available to rent. This is the same film whose crew uploaded all scenes that were censored by the CBFC online. I asked the film's team why they did so, and they responded vaguely that there was a directive by the government that prohibits public exhibitions of alternate versions of certified films.

AIG's team did not specify what that directive was, so it is very likely that this was just a case of legal conservatism--not being sure if something is illegal, but avoiding it just to be safe. The law they're referring to probably doesn't cover the Internet, but their production house probably just went with the censored version to be safe.

This all is not to say that there is no precedent for uploading uncensored versions of a film online. Rang Rasiya, for example, was heavily censored for theatrical release. However, it is available on Netflix India completely uncensored. Most producers are unwilling to take this harmless risk.

The CBFC did indeed say in a court hearing last month that they will begin requiring all filmmakers to avoid uploading censored scenes on the Internet or distribute them anywhere in India. In response to an RTI I filed, however, the CBFC has said that they haven't implemented this yet.

Indian producers have a moral obligation to protect filmmakers' vision to the best extent that they can. They have forgone this obligation by uploading censored versions of films they own on the internet. They are doing injustice to filmmakers, to the freedom of the Internet, and to consumers.

It's not just the producers alone, though. Streaming services like Hotstar that make it policy to only stream U/A films; lawyers who give conservative advice that has no proper basis; consumers who don't insist on uncut versions of films; and a lack of respect for filmmakers' craft; these factors combine to create an environment of quasi-censorship on the Internet.

As things stand now, the CBFC doesn't need to worry about censoring Internet content--the producers are already doing it for them.

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