Censorship and moral policing by political leaders and their followers are one of the biggest hindrances to Indian entertainment. Countless movies (Udta Punjab, Bandit Queen, Mohalla Assi to name a few) and even independent digital content like the AIB Roast of 2015 was met with a lot of backlash by the Indian Censorship board on grounds of ‘inappropriate content’. While explicit language, drug use and sexual scenes come with a warning to the audience in Hollywood, it is met with boycotts and banning in Bollywood.
Ever since the news of online streaming platforms to be censored by the government came out, the public was anxious about the future of the kind of content that would be ‘allowed’ to be showcased on our favourite streaming platforms by the Indian Censor Board. So while everyone was worried about their favourite film being banned, the hashtag #boycottnetflix already has been trending on Twitter in response to a controversial scene in a new series on Netflix.
Why is the hashtag trending?
The latest Netflix show ‘A Suitable Boy’ which is an adaptation from the popular Vikram Seth novel, has been met with backlash over a controversial scene. The show follows the life of an Indian girl and the controversial scene in question is the one where she is seen kissing a Muslim boy in a Hindu temple.
Several people expressed their discontent over the scene on the internet saying that it ‘was against Hindu morals’. In fact, BJP youth leader Gaurav Tiwari has already filed a case against Netflix in Madhya Pradesh against the makers of this series for promoting ‘love jihad’ which is a conspiracy theory where Muslim men entice Hindu girls to convert their religion under the pretext of marriage. He even went as far as saying that filmmaker Mira Nair was promoting it! He even urged people to file a complaint with their local police station if they thought any show or movie on an OTT platform was ‘insulting Hindu god’s and goddesses’. “ The law will take care of such offenders,” he tweeted. He also encouraged people to uninstall the app from their phone after which the hashtag #BoycottNetflix began to trend on Twitter.
Narottam Mishra, the interior minister of the central state of Madhya Pradesh, commented that an official police complaint had been registered under section 295 (A) (malicious acts to outrage and insulting the religious feelings and beliefs) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) against Monika Shergill, VP of Content at Netflix and Ambika Khurana, Director of Public Policies for the firm. The complaint was filed for showcasing objectionable scenes in the show which hurt the religious sentiments of Hindus.
“I had asked officials to examine the series ‘A Suitable Boy’ being streamed on Netflix to check if kissing scenes in it were filmed in a temple and if it hurt religious sentiments. The examination prima facie found that these scenes are hurting the sentiments of a particular religion,” he said.
He even took to Twitter to post a video echoing these statements and calling for the censorship for this series.
While the show explores themes of communal tensions in post portion India and Hindu-Muslim relations in such a setting, the above scenes seem to have ruffled a lot of religious sentiments.
What does this mean for future content on OTT platforms?
In light of this ban, people are concerned about the kind of content that will be ‘allowed’ to be showcased on OTT and digital media platforms. People fear that overly sensitive and regressive religious sentiments will curtail the basic right of creative freedom in our country.
This was even seen when the Tanishq ad, featuring a Hindu girl in a Muslim household, received such a backlash that it had to be taken down. In fact, the intolerance has reached such heights that Tanishq employees received threats over it.
Following these controversies, it is likely that the new governing body will put strict censorship rules over OTT platforms making it extremely difficult for citizens to exercise their creative liberty. Political officials using their power and status to call for the ban of shows under the pretext of ‘hurt religious sentiments’ is uncalled for.
While many users took to Twitter to call out this duplicitous behaviour as many Hindu Temples depict effigies ‘kissing’ or in a ‘Kamasutra position’. Some may even go as far as to say that this selective moral policing goes to show that this ban could have an ulterior motive behind it.
Clearly, content on any platform is at risk of being stifled creatively. In a time where FIRs, police cases and complete boycotts can be called, it is unlikely that creators will openly produce any kind of content that could be considered ‘controversial’.