Amazon Prime Video has released Lipstick Under My Burkha fully uncensored in India, incorporating over two minutes of the film which were cut in the theatrical release.
The film had been initially rejected by the Censor Board for being too ‘lady-oriented’, so the producers successfully obtained a certificate for theatrical release by going to the FCAT, an appeals body for the Censor Board. The FCAT ruling only came after the film consented to cuts above and beyond what the producers had already volunteered to remove from the film: the theatrical version had over 2 minutes of footage cut, and some swear words were muted. [read the FCAT ruling (pdf)]
This is a significant step away from its usual censorship for Amazon, and the second baby step it has taken towards reducing censorship of its content in India: before this, they released an “International” version of the TV series American Gods, discoverable only in search results.
Streaming services don’t need to censor content in India. Both the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting and the Censor Board have said that they don’t intend to censor, or create a mechanism to censor online content, including services like Netflix and Hotstar (and by extension, Prime Video). In spite of this, Amazon has chosen to censor several TV shows on Prime Video, and only uploaded the theatrical cuts of Indian films. Some American films are also censored, including those which were never theatrically released in India (like Anomalisa). Amazon said that it engaged in this censorship due to “cultural sensitivities“.
How Amazon should shed censorship
Censoring content online is not required, sets a bad precedent, and is just annoying. After Netflix briefly censored Angry Indian Goddesses in India, they reversed their decision following criticism, and said that putting up a censored version was “a miss.”
Of course, it’s much preferable that Amazon hadn’t committed any censorship in the first place; but that ship has sailed. Things would also be a lot easier if they did all the above things immediately, but they’ve been supremely jumpy about dealing with the Indian government, so that’s also not a realistic ask. What Amazon is open to, though, is dipping their toe in the water before diving in. The fact that they released a film that was in the news for its censorship fully uncensored is testament to that fact — unlike a certain other streaming service.
Here’s a blueprint of how Amazon should move away from censoring its content over the next year, if it wants to take a more measured approach:
2 months: Stop releasing censored versions of non-Indian films and TV shows. There’s plenty of precedent here, as neither Netflix nor Hotstar censor American TV shows.
4 months: Start putting out “International” versions of Indian films, like Parched, which have already released uncensored in other territories and streaming services.
6 months: Replace all English-language titles that are censored with the original, unedited version.
9 months: Replace all Indian titles by default with the uncensored version.
1 year: Remove all traces of past censorship, like “International” versions of films and TV series, and have only uncensored titles, both in the past and in the future.
Amazon’s deep pockets and dirt-cheap pricing for Prime Video means that it is primed (excuse the pun) to be one of the largest paid streaming services in India. Its censorship has already set a bad precedent, and the least it can do now is leave it behind, even if slowly.