“If there is censorship, we will follow it as per government norms. But there should be a guarantee that after this the material will not be pulled or questioned. “Amidst the new OTT app pushing the envelope on what can be shown through these platforms, there is no lack of clarity when it comes to censorship for CEO and Ullu founder Vibhu Agarwal.
Although all OTT platforms and news websites now come under the purview of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (I&B), there is no law or autonomous body that regulates their content. The controversy of recent shows like Tandava and Mirzapur has prompted the government to look at new ways of ruling this material.
Aggarwal said in an interview to Indiaexpress.com, “If the government in India implements censorship law, it will apply not only to me but to everyone.” “There is a big difference in terms of censorship 15 years ago and in today’s films. On OTT platforms we get a certain freedom to express creativity and people who enjoy watching it, ”he said.
Aggarwal is in favor of censorship, but is uncertain that it will silence those who demand it. He cites the recent Tanishq advertisement case. “There was nothing vulgar or violent about it but there was uproar nonetheless.”
Introduced in 2018, Homegron OTT Platform Owl is known for its bold and edgy content. While its web series is primarily targeted at Tier 2 and 3 audiences, The Owl is targeted to promote erotica and “vulgarity” in its shows.
“Why did they see it in the first place and why are they speaking about it?” Aggarwal questions the “hypocrisy” of the people. He asks why there is no criticism when big stars have similar scenes in films.
Aggarwal says that shows like Kavita Bhabhi and Shamsukh Jane Anjane are among the most popular on their stage. “People have given positive comments and demanded that we create this kind of content and keep it going,” he says.
The success of AltBalaji and Ullu has shown that there is a market for “erotic” content in India and other OTT players are also trying to capitalize on it. Although some brands highlight such soft-porn as Aghal’s Charmukhu Jen Anjane Mein or Alt Balaji’s Gandai Bait, Agarwal highlights: “We don’t have any kind of nudity in our content. If someone wants to see nudity, why would they see it on OTT platforms? “
But there is a risk on someone who is involved in a show with content that is more hardcore. “There are many artists working whose background is difficult to check,” says Aggarwal. “If an actor worked with us a year ago and we know that a lot can change during that year.”
“Our system is such that we do no production at home, we outsource all our work. People create work and give it to us. If we like it, they propose locations, costumes, side actors, lead actors, etc. “He explains the process of how a project gets greenlight from the creative team of owls.
“We don’t take auditions. They tell us their requirements; We take an exam in the form of soft copy so that we know acting skills. It is important to check the intensity of the actor. Post that we set a budget, they shoot it and give it back to us, we do a QC and we take the film. This is how we work, ”he explains.
Although Agarwal refused to segment its app’s active subscriber base, he said it had 28 million downloads on Android, iOS and Fire TV platforms. Many of these Kovid-19s came during the lockdown period, as Aggarwal’s Owl app achieved 220 percent growth. “The offer was consumed by all audiences.”
Agarwal is well aware of the image of the owl app in the minds of people, and wants to get ahead of the desi-erotic genre soon. “So far, we have gone in only one direction. About a year ago, we realized that we needed a mix of ingredients, ”he says.
But the move to introduce ‘regular content’ has not been very good with users. In December, Owl released Peshawar, with Rajiv Sen, the younger brother of Sushmita Sen. The show was based on an attack on an army school in Peshawar, which killed 140 school children in 2014. It was a flop; It was clean material with no derogatory language, ”he says.
However, Aggarwal says that he will continue to invest in content that will bring in a wider group of paying users. Furthermore, his budgets have gone up and he is now willing to fund the show in the 5 crore to 10 crore bracket to get better cast and keep pace with the story. Previously, the shows ranged from Rs 2 crore to Rs 5 range.
The 2.0 version of Ullu will look beyond the improved content and will also improve the app experience. The latest version of the application has a ‘sensor’ filter for users to choose the type of content to view. If you decide to watch the censored version, all the intimate scenes will be edited. Drinking and smoking scenes, however, will appear with appropriate disclaimers.
Even though the streaming app has a large following in Gujarat, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, Aggarwal says that he has seen more viewership coming from West Bengal in recent months. As viewers are now spreading pan-India, ULU content can be seen in many languages including Tamil, Telugu, Bhojpuri and English. “The South Indian market is really picking up,” he said. According to Agarwal, Kannada and Malayalam audiences prefer to watch their content in English.
Despite the Ullu app being heavily targeted in Tier-2 and Tier-2 cities, Aggarwal says that the subscriber base also includes users from Tier-1 cities who pay to view content on the app. This is an indication that style is not limited to many people in rural parts of India, as many believe.
Another myth associated with the content shown on the Ullu app is that the characters and stories resonate more with men than women. Aggarwal says that 60 percent of Ullu users are male and the remaining 40 percent are women. A year earlier, before the epidemic, the ratio was 80:20.