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Thursday, September 24, 2020

Messing With Defence Forces Not Okay

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Is Direct-to-OTT the new goldmine for medium-budget films?Since the time Sacred Games released on the OTT streaming platform Netflix, there has been a debate on whether the content on these platforms should be kept in check or let to run loose.

The series had never-seen-before morbidity, unnatural sex, filthiest of foul language and yet delivered nothing that one could take home. Taking home was a phrase much related to films as there were times when one walked out of a cinema hall humming one of the film’s songs or repeating its dialogue. What do you take home from, say, Sacred Games, Pataal Lok, Mirzapur, Mastram and such?

This column just recently discussed the limitations of the Cinematograph Act by which the authority of the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) extends only till rating and certifying a film product that is meant for public exhibition.

In such an event, there is no check on what passes as OTT content.

OTT platforms make their content available all over the world. “Gulabo Sitabo”, if you remember, was made available simultaneously in 203 countries with subtitles in 15 languages. That is the way for these platforms to recover the high price they are paying for content at present. Not to ignore the fact that they are buying just about any and everything on offer in the market.

A lot of such content, palmed off to OTT platforms, is utter trash with few takers. But, in this period of lockdown, that is all that is available to those seeking entertainment. The cinemas, the drama theatres and all else is under lockdown laws.

Earlier, we had what was known in the industry as “word of mouth”, which made or marred a film. Now, with social media, we have opinions as well as groups dedicated to discussing and rating OTT content. To be frank, since the streaming influx started post corona lockdown, one hardly gets to read positive reviews or, word of mouth, about any content except a couple like “Special Ops” or “Aarya”.

“Aarya” drew viewers because it brought back to screen Sushmita Sen. A remake of a Dutch series, “Penoza”. For viewers in India, its content was unconventional, where a father kills his daughter’s husband! For what reason? He wants to leave your family business and make a life for himself and his family, which includes your own daughter. That too when you have a son to run your business!

If a maker picks up a subject from another country, he should at least adapt it to Indian taste and culture. Making your daughter a widow is not Indian culture.

Most of the content premiering on OTT is the kind you would not run for a day at the multiplex!

But, OTT content is now again in the news for wrong reasons, with the release of “Gunjan Saxena: The Kargil Girl”! This controversy may go far to change the norms in the medium. Now, the courts are involved.

At the initial hearing, reacting to the demands of the petitioners, the court observed that the film can’t be withdrawn now since it is already available online. And, that the IAF and the complainant, should have approached before the film was released.

The IAF has a lot of issues with the way facts have been presented in the film, which they feel are grossly twisted.

A lot many biopics are made. In fact, lately they have been a trend. Narrated as they happened, none of them would succeed. Take the example of “Pan Singh Tomar”, “Bhaag Milkha Bhaag”, “M.S. Dhoni: The Untold Story”, “Pad Man” and even “Dangal”. They all needed to be dramatised to make them watch-worthy and interesting to the viewer. One may add that drama, romance (where necessary) and, most of all, the biopic as a rule should be about an eventual winner. You can’t make a biopic about a loser.

Biopics have done a good turn to the stories of heroes like Pan Singh Tomar, Milkha Singh and all others in that their lives and achievements are now recorded and available for all the future generations to watch and emulate.

However, when it comes to films on defence forces, things are not the same as making a film on a sporting hero.

But, “Gunjan Saxena: The Kargil Girl” happens to be a biopic on a former Air Force pilot. And, the armed forces are very particular about what and how they are depicted. It is not even easy to get permission to shoot in army properties and use their aircrafts unless the content is cleared.

Not only is the script whetted before all permissions are granted, even the final product needs approval before it is censored. This also involves the Defence Ministry. So, why this controversy now? Wasn’t the film shown to the Air Force prior to release? Of course, once you have an approval, the forces go out of their way to help and are very cordial.

The controversy here is about many wrong projections, which include claims of Saxena being the first woman pilot and first to run a sortie and be part of the Kargil action.

The thing is that, the maker could have dramatised Gunjan’s personal life, her toil and struggles and so on. But, when it comes to her part of being in the Air Force, playing with facts is not advisable. Especially so, in this movie, where the Air Force is projected in a bad light, depicting officers as misogynist.

Gunjan Saxena has been quoted in the media saying: “IAF is too big and too respectable a force to even be scratched by the controversy.”

That is hardly a sound defence. Because, it is about the image of IAF as well as our country, and the effect such a controversy can have on aspiring women officers. Does changing the title from “Gunjan Saxena: Bharat Ki Beti” to “Gunjan Saxena: The Kargil Girl”, and adding a disclaimer calling the film a work of fiction, change what is depicted? After all, wasn’t the film promoted as a biopic all along?

The Forces had better be kept out of controversy.

India Updates
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