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Unfettered OTTs like Netflix and Amazon Prime, need to be regulated

Reining OTTs like Netflix and Amazon Prime is necessary

The guidelines issued by the Government to regulate social media and Over The Top (OTT) platforms, is an attempt to strike a fine balance between creative freedom and social responsibility. It follows a heated national debate on reigning in OTTs within a regulatory framework.

Information and Broadcasting Minister Prakash Javadekar, has pointed out that 50 Parliament questions in the recently concluded first part of the Budget session were dedicated to concerns regarding digital content especially OTT platforms.

Courting controversy

Several OTT software have been courting controversy as they hurt the sensitivities and sensibilities of a section of public or people at large. Tandav series on Amazon Prime while insinuating corruption and cronyism at the highest political level, made derogatory reference to Hindu gods.

This platform’s Mirzapur landed in trouble when the Supreme Court issued notice to its makers. It was alleged that the series portrayed Mirzapur in bad light as it was shown as the centre of illegal activities and terror. Further, it also tarnished the cultural and historical image of the place.

The Netflix series Leila revolved around a Hindu woman in Aryavarta — a fictional world — who is punished and arrested for marrying a Muslim, while her child is taken away from her. Netflix’s Hansmukh invited ire of lawyers as it portrayed them as thieves, rapists and goons, thus maligning their image. Another show Sacred Games allegedly defamed Babas and also hurt the sentiments of Sikhs.

Agreeing that creativity should not be hemmed, there is nothing like absolute freedom.

A malicious portrayal can tarnish a person’s image or that of a group, thereby leaving a permanent imprint on viewers’ mind, especially the youngsters. Imagine, a millennial or Gen Z boy or girl, approaching the future, with wrong impression about lawyers, or Hindus or Sikhs or Mirzapur.

In his work, “A study of effects of web series and streaming content on youth”, Rahul Ahuja, Assistant Professor, Amity University, Patna, has concluded that web series and online streaming content have a huge impact on Indian youth. “The content showcased on OTT platforms filled with sexual, abusive and violent content together with alcohol and drugs have caused psychological effects on the Indian youth, where they have agreed to suffer from insomnia, depression and insecurities in their life.”

The argument that deletion of the scene (s) that hurt as a corrective step does not hold water. The person whose view has been biased may or may not be aware of this amendment. Further, it may be a seen as a coercive step, something forced on the filmmakers, rather than voluntary.

It may be recalled that years back, when cinema depicted dons as modern Robin Hoods, many writers and filmmakers criticized this glorification. The same applies for OTTs today. A hero taking law in his hands can’t become a role model. Similarly, taking up arms against the establishment, may have enjoyment and thrill quotient, but it can have disastrous effect on those decide to follow it for voicing their concerns.

Many would disagree with these arguments. Yes, fiction can become fact, reel life can become real. Plethora of such instances are there.

Inspired by Shah Rukh Khan’s Darr (1993), in 2016 a 24-year-old girl was stalked and later kidnapped by a man in Delhi. Stating that he intended to marry her, he confessed being inspired by Khan’s film.

Ashwini Kashyap of Uttar Pradesh taking a cue from the film Kabir Singh, repeated a dialogue from it “Jo mera nahi ho sakta, usse kisi aur ke hone ka mauka nahi doonga”, murdered a flight attendant, with whom he was obsessed as she was to get married to someone else. There are many more cases.

Writing in The Patriot, Shruti Das in her article “Can movies motivate crimes in real life?” quotes a Delhi-based psychologist, Neelam Mishra. “The basic phenomena of human psychology say that people choose and follow whatever makes their image come across as ‘powerful’. In such movies (like Kabir Singh) where so much aggression, misconduct, misbehaviour is shown, sometimes people take it as a correct step and follow it. They consider it correct as their immediate need is being gratified. Secondly, it also depends upon the fan following of the actor, as people follow their idol without realising or rationalising that they are playing a character in a movie.”

Visual medium is more potent than mere comments on Twitter or Facebook. Why? The imagery catches an individual’s imagination faster and stays much longer. Historically, it was effectively used by Hitler to propagate Nazism while a south-based political party utilised it to garner popular support for their ideology.

Agreeing with the manipulative attribute of films, Mishra in Das’s article states: “People follow what they see, films can manipulate the mindset of the audience. When films persistently show a negative task, which is being accepted by actor’s family members in a movie they get mental approval to pursue the task and expect others to approve of it as well and consider it morally and ethically correct, due to such conditioning which they have got. Such films distort a person’s mindset, especially of adolescents.”