The online revolution
Without the restrictions of the Censor Board and the I&B ministry, a clutch of Indian web series is fast changing the entertainment we consume
Far away from the prying eyes of the Censor Board, a clutch of Indian web shows is revolutionising the entertainment space. With no suffocating 'sanskari' boundaries, pseudo-patriotism or interference from regressive forces, online entertainment is showcasing a side of Indians that is considered 'normal' by many of us but is not reflected in mainstream entertainment. Young media, whether independent or hosted on bigger platforms, are upholding to audiences modern India that eats, drinks, f*#%ks, travels, smokes up, marries, does not marry, has kids or chooses not to, etc.
I have been bingeing on these shows that bring in an acceptance of lifestyle choices that are too 'bold' for the general masses. Whether it is the story of a small-town girl with big city dreams and ambitions in 'Girl in the City' or the ups and downs of live-in couples in 'Little Things', these next-door stories are a fresh lease of entertainment. With Hindi television shows portraying hackneyed themes of 'saas-bahu' soaps or bizarre stories like 'Naagin', watching Hindi content was a no-go area. But these young web entertainers with their real stories, struggles, and challenges makes one yearn for successive series.
These web shows are also quietly breaking stereotypes that even our top commercial filmmakers won't touch with a barge pole. A series called 'Love, Lust, Confusion' shows the protagonist as a promiscuous woman who has a bucket-list of men 'to do' before she ties the knot. Even a lesbian encounter and the possibility of a threesome is shown with alacrity. Four women embark on a bachelorette trip to Thailand in 'The Trip' and are shown to drink (a lot!), wear skimpy clothes, and swipe left and right for a hook-up. These daring plots would be booed by the 'sanskari' peeps who take their grandmothers to watch films (remember the brouhaha over 'Veere di Wedding'?). There would be allegations of corrupting pure Indian minds, especially women (always women), and who knows, maybe some right-wing elements may even shut down a cinema or two. A Public Interest Litigation may perhaps bring on a ban on the release as well.
On the web, however, there are no such restrictions…at least just yet. Freedom of speech and expression, lifestyle decisions, inter-religious marriage, homosexuality, all get an even footing to tell their story. The Information and Broadcasting Ministry is yet to hem in online content but discussions are underway. While the talks of legislation for online content started earlier this year over the urgent need to tackle the malaise of fake news, it could very well extend to what is shown on Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Hotstar etc. as well YouTube channels that host web series. A committee has been constituted to devise a regulatory framework for news websites and portals extending to entertainment/infotainment sites as well. If these rules do come into play, then it may impinge on freedom of expression and bring down the axe on a number of web series with their progressive themes. Let us hope that it does not become a reality because currently much of what comprises the reel does not reflect the real.
(The writer is a journalist and media entrepreneur. The views expressed are strictly personal)