Vibrant Gujarat eyes film industry now

Mumbai, Dec 3 (IANS): Filmmakers went to the UK, UP or any other location that offered a subsidy. Whether the location suited the content or not, mattered the least. The lure of lucre means more.

The news that comes as a surprise this week is that three movie projects have already moved to Gujarat for shooting.

The Gujarat government has been working vigorously for the last few months to attract film units to the state. And it looks like they have been able to convince many filmmakers to shoot in Gujarat.

The films that commenced shooting in Gujarat are the ones that can be termed as ones from major production houses. Suneel Darshan has started shooting in Gujarat, and work on Akshay Kumar's two films, one each in Rajkot and Surat, will commence on December 9, nine being his lucky number.

Gujarat Chief Minister Bhupendrabhai Patel, along with his officials, are visiting Mumbai on December 6 to sign MOUs with filmmakers who wish to shoot in Gujarat and, from the looks of it, many producers are expected to sign on the dotted line.

The lineup of filmmakers planning to shoot in Gujarat includes Sajid Nadiadwala, Feroz Nadiadwala, Vinod Bhanushali, Vipul D. Shah, Jayantilal Gada, Taapsee Pannu, Ganesh Acharya, Pranjal Khandhdiya, Sandeep Singh, Jackie Bhagnani and Ketan Mehta; the ones also likely to sign the MOU are Imtiaz Ali and Anand Pandit.

The advantage the state offers is that it is close to Mumbai, depending on how one travels, between an hour to a few hours. The state offers varied locations, including lush green hills, over 1,600 km of sea coast, the white desert and vibrant townships.

Finally, the main draw: A subsidy to the tune of 30 per cent of the projected budget.

I&B Ministry wakes up to the cinema-OTT anomaly

Films have always faced strict censorship and OTT shows are free to show vulgarity, abusive language and, even, anti-national content. Now, the films shown on OTT platforms include scenes and sequences deleted from films by the censors for being unfit for public viewing.

This makes the very idea of censoring films irrelevant. Some content cannot be watched in a cinema, but viewing it at home is kosher!

In fact, OTT platforms started off with programmes that were not fit to be seen at home with your family. 'Sacred Games' was one of the earliest web series to be shown on OTT and it reeked of vulgarity and perversion of all sorts.

There was also this illogical series called 'Arya' where a child walks in on his grandfather while he is engaging in sex. Unperturbed, he continues!

Then, there was a web series called 'Gunjan Saxena', which allegedly defamed the Indian Air Force in no uncertain terms. Viewers raised their voice and the media amplified the viewers' feelings. So what happened? This only served as additional publicity for the programme! Often, this is viewed as promotion of such content.

The problem with our system is that we don't foresee what is eventually going to work against our traditions. Why were our authorities turning a blind eye to the exploits of OTT platforms and their content providers?

I think the ministry concerned was taking the guidelines of the Cinematograph Act at face value. The Act states that a film containing any of the content mentioned above should not be certified for public viewing, but the OTT platforms are showing the very same content merrily. So, watching vulgar, gory and sexually explicit content on OTT platforms does not amount to 'Public Exhibition' as defined in the censor guidelines!

The OTT format made its debut in India in 2016 and has since then carried on merrily showing content dished out by the makers taking advantage of the freedom from censorship they enjoyed.

It is no wonder that the success ratio of OTT content is grossly limited. This is the people's way of expressing their opinion.

OTT platforms are supposed to provide home entertainment and if you can't watch the content with your family, it won't get enough hits. The most loved OTT programmes have been the ones that did not include vulgarity or sex scenes. 'Scam 1992: The Harshad Mehta Story', 'The Family Man', 'Special Ops', 'Panchayat' (both seasons 1 and 2), 'Gullak' (all three seasons) and 'Rocket Boys' were all clean entertainers yet successful.

The makers of OTT content should realise that if people want to watch sex, porn videos are available on the Net. They should also know very well that forcing a few sex scenes in is not the formula to success. The film industry has been thriving without the crutches of sex, gore and vulgarity.

Be it films or OTT, content is king. And, unlike in the case of a film, OTT content providers have to spread their content over many episodes and for more than one season. That certainly can be achieved without making such unwarranted digressions.

That the I&B Ministry has decided to rein in the OTT platforms and their content, but the industry is reacting like a spoiled brat. I wonder why the ministry had so far not considered treating films and OTT content as similar and therefore subject to the same set of rules. It is hard to explain why the government turned a blind eye to the kind of content these platforms were streaming.

Now that the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting has proposed the Broadcasting Services (Regulation) Bill 2023, with the aim to replace the existing Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act 1995, the parties concerned are crying foul!

The Broadcasting Services (Regulation) Bill, 2023, in keeping with the times, is meant to be an update that takes into account OTT, digital media, DTH, IPTV and other emerging technologies.

To this end, the ministry has set up a Content Evaluation Committee (CEC) to whet all content before a broadcaster or an OTT platform puts it out for the public.

The content providers seem more worried about this development than the OTT platforms. Do they think only sex, gore and vulgarity work with OTT audiences? Why?

Films released for public exhibition do not depict all that and are still subject to censorship. And on that clean content the film industry has survived for more than a century.

The views of those whom our media dubs as experts differ. Some are for and some are against. Media outlets have the right to brand people as experts and analysts, but it is hard to argue against the logic of this proposition: Why should laws that apply to feature films not be applicable to other forms of entertainment, especially OTT content, given that the target viewer is the same?



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