New Delhi: Adult-themed Hindi movies on Amazon Prime Video are ending way prematurely. The Seattle-based technology company appears to be self-censoring content on its direct-to-consumer video streaming service in India. Deleted sex scenes and muted naughty dialogues mean movies that screened in cinemas with adult rating can now be watched by children older than 13, though to watch it uncensored, you only have to click on rival over-the-top (OTT) platform Netflix.
The Dirty Picture, the bold Vidya Balan-starrer based on the life of Silk Smitha, the 1980s South Indian film star famous for her raunchy roles, has scenes and dialogues missing on Amazon Prime Video. In one case, Balan exchanges some explicit dialogues with Naseeruddin Shah in what is supposed to be their characters' first meeting. Another is an erotic scene the protagonist played by Balan is shooting for a film. Other scenes too are missing, so that a movie that runs for 2 hours 24 minutes on Netflix is 17 minutes shorter on Amazon Prime Video.
Unsurprisingly, Amazon Prime Video has certified the movie PG13, which means it may be inappropriate for those under the age of 13.
Hunterrr, the 2015 sex comedy is nine minutes shorter on Amazon Prime Video than on Netflix. With a one-and-a-half minute sex scene and a few other scenes missing, it has again been rated fit for audiences over 13.
An email sent to both Netflix and Amazon Prime Video seeking comments went unanswered.
This development is important for two reasons. First, last year saw multiple public interest litigations filed in courts demanding regulation of content on the web. There is no consensus among the 36-odd OTT players on whether a new regulatory body should be set up or if an existing regulator should do the job or if the matter should be left to the streaming services.
Second, Amazon voluntarily editing content raises the question whether self-censorship influences the company's decision on buying movie titles. So far, Amazon has stayed away from streaming movies that have been denied a public release by the Censor Board of India. However, three such banned movies, Unfreedom, Firaaq and Gandu, are available on Netflix.
“We will follow the law of the land. Whatever we do will be identified jointly as a group,” said Ali Hussein, chief operating officer at Eros Now.
Censorship on streaming platforms will remain a grey area for a while, given the mix of firms. The online video space includes television networks such as Sony, Star and Zee, content production houses like Eros and Viacom18 and internet giants Google and Facebook, Hussein said.
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“There is no need for censorship at all. What differentiates the online space from TV or cinema is that it is private and the programming can be determined by the individual who is expected to make an educated choice. The market is still in a state of discovery in India and adding encumbrances such as censorship will only create costs of compliance, especially for startups,” said Apar Gupta, executive director of Internet Freedom Foundation, a digital rights advocacy group.
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“As the world moves to a more democratic space, we can't be moving in the opposite direction,” said filmmaker Onir, who has made films like My Brother...Nikhil and I Am. “The more we try and push things under the carpet, the more corruption it will give rise to. Of course, all good platforms have age ratings for content and there can be regulations against what may seen as spreading hatred of any kind. However, censorship is not the answer,” he said.