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Apple TV+ stops India censorship – here’s how to spot if what you’re watching is censored

Apple TV+ no longer censoring its content is a refreshing break from what other streaming services are doing in India.

Apple TV+ doesn’t appear to be censoring content in India anymore; a review of content that was released in the last couple of months shows that the company is no longer making the cautious edits to its content that it debuted in India with — arbitrary muting of swear words, cutting of gore even in content rated for adults, and other such cuts. The company has complied with at least one requirement of the Information Technology (Intermediary Liability and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021 — standardised age ratings — but has (thankfully) not doubled down on censorship. Titles like the second seasons of See and Truth Be Told, the series Mr. Corman, and the film Coda, are all rated for adults but don’t seem to be censored in India.

Apple has also appointed a grievance officer for Apple TV+ under the IT Rules — Priyesh Poovanna, Country Counsel at Apple India, is the grievance officer for both Apple TV+ as well as for the App Store. This appointment has not been reported previously; word of it is buried deep in Apple’s digital services terms and conditions page. However, with Poovanna’s appointment, it appears that Apple is relying on its newfound legal certainty to ease up on censorship. This is in contrast with Amazon Prime Video, which censored even Sarpatta Parambarai, the Pa. Ranjith film released exclusively on the platform.

Apple declined to comment on the matter.

Even as streaming services censor content to avoid angering Indian audiences — such as Netflix not streaming an anime series that depicts the Hindu deity, Shiva, in a way that drew the ire of at least one Hindu group — Apple backing down from censorship is interesting. Its launch in India with censored content long before the IT Rules was even talked about was curious, what with it being a premium service that was not very convenient to access outside Apple’s devices, something very few Indians own. But even with IT Rules-mandated age ratings, it is not surprising that Apple is no longer censoring content — the service has no original Indian content for the moment, and movies on rent on Apple TV are already certified by the CBFC and presented as censored.

How to find out if OTT platforms in India are censoring

If you’re a viewer of a streaming service in India, there are often some indicators that content has been censored. Bear in mind, though, that these are indicators, and that they may not in and of themselves mean that what you’re watching has been censored for Indian viewers.

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  • Language options: On international streaming services like Amazon Prime Video, Netflix and Apple TV+, content is often available in multiple international languages, especially Hollywood films and American TV — originals are often available with the widest range of language options. If the content on these services is only available with Indian language and English subtitle and audio options, that could mean that this content is censored. The series See on Apple TV+, for instance, had its first season censored in India, and therefore audio dubs in non-Indian languages like French and Spanish are unavailable — why would Apple also sync those languages’ language options to a censored version of the title in India? The same applies to international originals on Amazon Prime Video, which have a wider range of language options when they are uncensored. On Netflix, you can do the same thing with originals by enabling any common foreign language in your language settings under “Shows and Movies Languages”.
  • CBFC certificate: If a movie shows a CBFC certificate before it starts — like it does on Mubi, Apple TV and Google Play — then it is likely censored. Google and Apple usually display these CBFC certificates on the films’ posters, so that is a little easier to detect. Mubi, on the other hand, simply obtains censored versions of Indian films as a general rule of thumb, whereas foreign content is uncensored, even if it is particularly racy.
  • Disclaimers: If a disclaimer has been added to an international title, then it may be censored. For instance, Borat Subsequent Moviefilm was censored by Amazon Prime Video in India; at least one instance of a world map had the sections around India’s northern borders blurred. And it started with a disclaimer (not present in other parts of the world; we checked) that Amazon’s views weren’t necessarily in line with those espoused by the Sacha Baron Cohen-led satire.
  • Origin of the film: With web series, it is not usually possible to tell if post-production censorship has taken place, as these shows don’t have to go through the Central Board of Film Certification under any circumstance (unless they’re releasing on DVD in India). With films, though, Indian movies are released censored very often; the very fact of a film being Indian may very well mean that a theatrical cut has been put online. Amazon Prime Video, Disney+ Hotstar, Mubi, ZEE5, and Sony LIV generally put up these censored cuts of films on their platforms; Netflix guidelines require the company to obtain uncensored versions when they notice that a film supplied to them has obvious visual or audio cuts.

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I cover the digital content ecosystem and telecom for MediaNama.

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