Since its inception in India, Amazon Prime Video’s track record of censoring its own content has been arbitrary and sometimes downright puzzling.

Sarpatta Parambarai, Pa. Ranjith’s ambitious boxing film was never released. And yet Amazon appears to have approved a version of the film by the Central Board of Film Certification, which regulates films in theaters, DVDs, and films shown on television. The law doesn’t prevent Amazon from streaming the movie as it was shot. However, the company crouched behind the security of a certificate from the Censor Board.

Even tamer swear words in Tamil films are often muted, anything that is even a little politically subversive is undermined and in addition to the intrusive smoke warnings in the corners of the screen Drink It also adds warnings – warnings that Amazon has faithfully reproduced despite the government still on July 19 clarifying in Parliament that this is not necessary for streaming services. A CBFC official in Chennai refused to provide a cutting list unless he responded to an RTI request; We submitted this application and received the following cutting list. Amazon did not respond to a request for comment.

Source: Central Board of Film Certification

As expected, the CBFC has removed all traces of subversive messages that filmmakers like Ranjith have increasingly walled up: Swear words are obviously gone, but also politically charged dialogues (“He’s goes”) [from] […] our party! “,” Dictator “,” Kalaignar “, [a reference to M. Karunanidhi, the former Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu] “Indira [Gandhi]Dictatorship, the congress crowd, [we demand you] Resignation ”,“ Prime Minister … Party ”and“ DMK ”have all disappeared from the certified version of the film.

This has happened to pretty much all of Amazon’s Indian film catalog. Another film from Pa. Ranjith, Kaala, was noticeably censored from the CBFC, muffled with several words throughout the film. Amazon has maintained this censorship online as well. But the same streaming platform released widespread thrillers that allowed creators to explore sensitive subjects. How does it work?

Extreme caution and courage at the wrong time

When Amazon Prime Video first launched in India, perhaps out of caution, they overcensored their content. They removed an entire segment from The Grand Tour. They blurred genitals in films in non-sexual contexts that have already been rated for adults. Profanity was either muted or removed from the subtitles on shows. The year was 2016, and Hotstar and Netflix were pretty much the only comparable streaming services in town with a decent operational and marketing presence.

But with Indian films the problem was even worse: Amazon, unlike NetflixTo set up films as approved for the theater exhibition. Amazon set a precedent that others followed. ZEE5, SunNXT, Mubi, Sony LIV – name a streaming service and provide the CBFC editing of Indian films, while foreign films, even those that have a censored theatrical version in India, largely escape this requirement.

Despite this harmful caution, the original Amazon team did not receive the memo. They cleaned up and let loose on shows like Paatal Lok and Tandav, who had a frank (and bold) willingness to say things about politics and religion that would never fly with the CBFC. And because of that, they got into trouble with the right.

So on the one hand, Amazon was cautious enough to stifle the art of Indian filmmakers, and on the other hand, they got into trouble for not regulating what they put on the site. Now Amazon has indicated that they will not create content that will get them in trouble (“We will continue to develop entertaining content with partners while we obey the laws of India and respect the diversity of culture and beliefs of our audiences”). So be it.

But the laws have changed and they have become explicit. Streaming services are allowed to classify their content themselves in accordance with the rules for information technology (intermediary guidelines and code of ethics for digital media) in 2021. And it’s not that Amazon is alien to the practice of releasing a CBFC cut of an Indian film uncensored. This happened at least twice: with the Hindi film Lipstick Under My Burkha and again with the Telugu film Arjun Reddy. This essentially means that every film that Amazon releases with a CBFC certificate is a choice – a choice designed to keep the freedoms of filmmakers to an absolute minimum.

What’s next?

Amazon is extremely cautious and, unlike in 2016, can justify this attitude with proven risks. Prime Video’s Head of Indian Originals Aparna Purohit, a Mumbai-based executive, had to present herself to police in Lucknow for questioning after a spate of coordinated complaints about Tandav. After the Allahabad Supreme Court refused to protect her from coercion, Amazon apologized for the entire saga. A day later, Purohit received temporary protection from the Supreme Court.

All in all, it is unacceptable to subject filmmakers to the censor board in an era according to the IT rules, especially when a film is not in the theatrical release at all. Amazon and other streaming services should get uncensored versions of films from Indian film production houses – the fact that Netflix largely do this already should serve as a suggestion.

One could argue that the spirit of IT rules is to contain politically provocative content. But there is a middle ground between avoiding anger without offending users and respecting creative freedom. As it stands, Amazon remains at the very end of the safe side and owes viewers and filmmakers what they need to protect creative freedoms to the extent permitted by law – even if it may be uncomfortable.

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