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Filmmaker Arati Kadav does not believe in censorship of digital content. She believes the idea would snatch away the power of being fearless from a storyteller.
The ongoing furor over the web series “Tandav” has triggered conversation around censorship of digital content again. Opening up on the subject, Arati, who has directed the sci-fi films “Cargo” and “55km/sec”, feels instead of censoring content, the practice of inserting a rating and a disclaimer should be in place.
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“I think at least the content that we watch on the OTT platform should be free from censorship. At least this should be a space where storytellers can find their original voice fearlessly. Anyway, there is so much analysis that happens with every content and there is a consciousness of analyzing everything, on what is outrageous, what is not.” Arati kadav told IANS.
“There is a fear of ‘what if it hurts sentiment’? In a way with censorship on digital shows, we will end up listening to extremist voices. I think the OTT space should be free from censorship. Yes, there should be a rating and a disclaimer inserted before content, which we do anyway. I see no reason for censoring content because who knows who is the best judge of what?” Arati Kadav added.
Highlighting the advantages of OTT platforms, Arati explained:” I think OTT platforms are creating the space to enable the plurality of voices — something that earlier used to not happen. ‘Cargo’ for instance saw the light of day thanks to the OTT platform, and a new audience has grown. Storytellers like us have found space, and producers have found an avenue to recover money from the experimental cinema.” (IANS)
Back in the early 1970s, Marathi playwright Vijay Tendulkar’s play ‘Sakharam Binder’ — which features the character of a bookbinder who ‘takes in’ women abandoned or dejected by other men and uses them as domestic help and sexual partners — struggled with the Stage Scrutiny Board (the censor board) and sections of society. In 2020, a play explores the idea of censorship in the arts through this story.
Titled ‘Sex, Morality, and Censorship’, the play is based on Vijay Tendulkar’s theatre classic ‘Sakharam Binder’s struggle with censorship. Recapturing the essence of Maharashtra’s folk arts ‘Tamasha’ and the spirit of the 1970s, the play offers a mix of theatre, live music, dance, and video. Play director Sunil Shanbag and co-writer Irawati Karnik this week hosted a guided viewing of the performance of the play recorded at the iconic Prithvi Theatre in Mumbai. The viewing took place on Paytm Insider’s theatre initiative, Front & Centre in collaboration with Studio Tamaasha’s monthly series – TheatreNama.
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The play also looks at the parallel theme of the “sanitisation” the folk arts, namely Maharashtra’s Tamasha tradition, by conservative sections of society, director Sunil Shanbag told IANSlife.
Asked how censorship has impacted free expression of ‘taboo’ topics on stage, Shanbag shares: “Interestingly only two states in India still retain the equivalent of the outdated colonial law of 1876, the Dramatic Performances Act. These are Maharashtra and Gujarat. In Maharashtra there are several examples of both official censorship of theatre by the stage scrutiny board, and unofficial censorship by non-state players, and mobs. The latter, unofficial censorship, follows no rules or procedures, and is unpredictable, hence very dangerous to deal with. Of late we do worry that official censorship too seems inclined towards conservatism which can be quite oppressive for artists.”
In the guided viewing, the makers took the audience on the journey of what began as an idea to do a play about censorship, slowly developed and evolved into a full-fledged theatre production. “This process took about a year of work, and involved many collaborators, which included the actors. We shared these rich experiences and memories with the audience and showed them extensive excerpts from a performance of the play to illustrate and illuminate what we were saying,” shared Shanbag.
Varun Khare – Business Head, Live Entertainment (IPs & Partnerships) at Paytm Insider, said, “Censorship has long plagued the sharp-edged satire and other nuances that are characteristic of Tamasha. Sex, Morality and Censorship, brings forth a fresh perspective on decades-old folk arts, with popular folk artists presenting their views on the art form, the ruthless civil censorship, and insights into the play itself.” (IANS)
There is a curious situation vis a vis the Censor Board of Film Certification! How relevant is its existence now? The Board, which was the pawn of the ruling regimes and which made or marred a film’s prospects at the box office.
The Cinematograph Act 1957, has rules laid down for what it describes as public viewing. Films were meant for public exhibition and, hence, needed to be monitored. Things started changing when television entered the scene. The CBFC had no control here as this was considered home entertainment and not public exhibition.
Even when the television made its entry into India, because the medium was state-owned, it had to follow the norms. Government-controlled television was in the analogue signal initially. It telecast films based programmes like “Chhayageet”, but its main attraction was the Sunday evening telecast of a feature film. It was still a black and white era.
With India hosting the 1982 Asian Games, colour television made its foray. This was followed by video players. That not only gave birth to piracy, but also brought in its wake cable broadcast in the form of home video. This business was grossly illegal and there was no control on the activity. All the films shown on cable were pirated, without acquiring rights. It became so blatant, that the pirated films premiered simultaneously on cable along with its cinema release.
The producers tried their best to appoint agencies to check on cable operators, which only led to corruption as these agencies started collecting ‘hafta’ from cable operators. Exhibition being a state subject, governments were also losing out on a lot of revenue in the form of entertainment tax. Cable operators were not streamlined and did not pay taxes of any kind. However, no government was concerned.
When there were no other channels, Doordarshan was an additional source of income for filmmakers. However, films certified with ‘A’ certificates were not allowed to be telecast on TV. Not all ‘A’ films fell in the slot of vulgarity or violence. Finally, such films were permitted in late night slot of 11 pm!
Coming back to the Censor Board, it lost the plot when films duly censored but with interpolated clippings of porn films were shown on cable. Also, each cable operator, wherever in India, had a special slot for porn films, starting late night after 10 pm!
Then came private satellite TV channels, which spelt big bucks for films. Film producers devised a way to circumvent the ‘A’ certificate block on these television channels. Once the theatrical run for a film was over and it came to selling television rights, the producer of a film would apply with a film’s revised version, doing away with all the footage that had earned the film an ‘A’ certificate. That way, a maker would get the best of both the worlds.
The Central Board Of Film Certification has always been held in a negative light with the film industry, whichever the regime calling shots. It is known to appoint people on its committees who have no clue of film making or what a film-lover wanted. They played favorites with producers, created waiting lists and, then, manipulated these lists. Things became so ridiculous that there came a time when not only films, but even the film publicity material was needed to be presented to a film producers’ body, which would duly endorse it as clean and only then the film could proceed for censor certificate. Thankfully, such foolhardy, kneejerk dictates don’t last long and the rule died an un-ceremonial death.
So, how relevant it the Censor Board today when millions of minutes of content is streamed on digital media? CBFC has no say here because it was meant only to be a watchdog of films meant for public exhibition in cinema theaters. Of course, it was an ill-conceived brainchild of the British, who did not care what the Indians watched as long as it was not anti-Raj. No secret that the free India regimes continued to use it as a tool to control the filmmakers.
The digital media has taken over now, and all kind of content is beamed straight to home of a subscriber. From the day the first controversial streaming from Hindi content makers, “Sacred Games”, hit the home screens, there has been a hue and cry that the content was not only gory and sexually explicit, even depicting unnatural sex, but also against all that the Indian Censor has stood for.
The CBFC has no jurisdiction over digital platform. It is in a peculiar situation of being hard on film content while watching some filthiest and disturbing content on the OTT platforms. Add to that, even the films that were in the CBFC domain, which could not be screened in cinemas, can now bypass the Censor Board and can be shown through online streaming not requiring a censor clearance.
The last amendment the Government made to the Cinematography Act was a year back, in 2019. It dealt only with piracy, and the kind of penalties and punishment it would entail. The amendment came some 35 years too late. A lot many films are available on certain digital platforms that are not acquired rightfully. Isn’t that piracy?
All the porn that one may want to watch is available on the net. So, is watching pornography in the privacy of your home a crime? The Apex Court thinks it is not. So, what good is censorship of films in today’s times, especially since no filmmaker is yet seen going overboard even in films shown on streaming platforms!
Yes, the made-for-OTT platforms do force a lot of violence and sex. But, now these platforms provide programmes from all over the world, and there is no way they can be censored. So, why should Indian content be censored? One only wishes Indian makers did not make sex look so vulgar and repulsive, but added a little finesse. (IANS)
Researchers have developed an Artificial Intelligence (AI)-based system that automatically learns to evade censorship in India, China and Kazakhstan.
The tool, called Geneva (short for Genetic Evasion), found dozens of ways to circumvent censorship by exploiting gaps in censors’ logic and finding bugs that the researchers said would have been virtually impossible for humans to find manually.
The researchers are scheduled to introduce Geneva during a peer-reviewed talk at the Association for Computing Machinery’s 26th Conference on Computer and Communications Security in London on Thursday.
“With Geneva, we are, for the first time, at a major advantage in the censorship arms race,” said Dave Levin, an assistant professor of computer science at the University of Maryland in the US and senior author of the paper.
“Geneva represents the first step toward a whole new arms race in which artificial intelligence systems of censors and evaders compete with one another. Ultimately, winning this race means bringing free speech and open communication to millions of users around the world who currently don’t have them,” Levin said.
To demonstrate that Geneva worked in the real world against undiscovered censorship strategies, the team ran Geneva on a computer in China with an unmodified Google Chrome browser installed.
By deploying strategies identified by Geneva, the user was able to browse free of keyword censorship.
The researchers also successfully evaded censorship in India, which blocks forbidden URLs, and Kazakhstan, which was eavesdropping on certain social media sites at the time, said a statement from the University of Maryland.
All information on the Internet is broken into data packets by the sender’s computer and reassembled by the receiving computer.
One prevalent form of Internet censorship works by monitoring the data packets sent during an Internet search.
The censor blocks requests that either contain flagged keywords (such as “Tiananmen Square” in China) or prohibited domain names (such as “Wikipedia” in many countries).
When Geneva is running on a computer that is sending out web requests through a censor, it modifies how data is broken up and sent, so that the censor does not recognise forbidden content or is unable to censor the connection.
Known as a genetic algorithm, Geneva is a biologically inspired type of AI that Levin and his team developed to work in the background as a user browses the web from a standard Internet browser.
Like biological systems, Geneva forms sets of instructions from genetic building blocks. But rather than using DNA as building blocks, Geneva uses small pieces of code.
Individually, the bits of code do very little, but when composed into instructions, they can perform sophisticated evasion strategies for breaking up, arranging or sending data packets.
The tool evolves its genetic code through successive attempts (or generations). With each generation, Geneva keeps the instructions that work best at evading censorship and kicks out the rest.
Geneva mutates and cross breeds its strategies by randomly removing instructions, adding new instructions, or combining successful instructions and testing the strategy again.
Through this evolutionary process, Geneva is able to identify multiple evasion strategies very quickly, said the study. (IANS)