Pirates of Arabian
Illegal DVDs harm Bollywood, scream insiders. But when you copy Hollywood
without qualm for cheap remakes isn’t it the same thing? Films are
failing because people are saying no to bad cinema
guy came to me with some of the most talked-about films of last year.
On pirated dvds. Not Hindi, not Hollywood, but world cinema. Films that
you normally don’t have access to, unless you are travelling abroad
all the time. So, with great excitement I put him on to a lot of filmmaker
friends, who I thought should be watching it or would like to watch it.
The next day, I received
an sms from a filmmaker, one of the very few I respect immensely. It said,
“The number of individuals within the film fraternity that are propagating
piracy by purchasing, renting or copying illegitimate dvds is staggering.
Stop indulging in it! Don’t be the hand that feeds it”. His
intention is honorable, like all those who care about filmmaking as an
industry. Yet, I beg to differ with him on this issue.
You see, I condone
piracy. Had there been no piracy, I wouldn’t have been able to see
the films I saw in the small town of Tanda in Faizabad when I was a kid.
I have seen films at two rupees a ticket in makeshift theatres courtesy
a battered vcr playing a copied vhs on a beat-up TV. If it weren’t
for piracy, I wouldn’t have read Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Chekov and
other Russian greats reproduced on bad quality paper. This was at a time
when one had no money, no vcr or television, only a lust for books and
films. Piracy probably exposed me to a world I didn’t know of.
Every industry person,
who rises at ficci gatherings, blaming piracy for the dipping fortunes
of Indian cinema, and who can afford to buy original dvds is still borrowing
them or renting them or being gifted them. If piracy is to blame for our
bad quality cinema, how come other countries ravaged by the same menace
are producing better cinema and box-office? For instance, a couple of
years ago, before the piracy boom in South Korea, the film Shiri grossed
$9 million in the domestic market. Post-piracy, the 2004 film Tae-gu-kgi
grossed $30 million. In Japan, House moving castle has crossed the 200
million dollar mark domestically, in spite of piracy. People go to theatres
because of the power of cinema.
The reason for our
sorry state is that we not only borrow ideas, but the style, looks, attitude,
labels, culture, setting, and milieu of Hollywood — even its language.
Then our seniors say they hate the term ‘Bollywood’.
The fact is, we are
cheap remakes of Hollywood, and deserve to be called Bollywood. So, if
we can pirate their software, then why not dvds? There are other core
intrinsic to this debate. Why don’t we have stronger copyright laws,
and why don’t our filmmakers fight for stronger copyright laws?
Why can’t we option rights, which basically means that we acknowledge
source material before we make it our own by paying between 200 and 500
dollars, eventually paying about two percent of the budget to the author
of the source? No one, including me, can claim not to have indulged in
it. At present, I am working for two directors on two films that are completely
based on some Hollywood flick. I do it even though I do not like it.
I have my own logic
in doing those films. I charge extra amounts of money for working on scripts
that have been thought out by somebody else. So, when I feel ashamed of
it, I can look into accusing eyes and say, “I did it for the money,
so I can pay for my two indulgences – graphic novels, and original
dvds.” Another ready excuse is, “You have to be in the system
to fight it.”
Why is it that we
do it — this ‘soft’ piracy? Where does the root of the
problem lie? How does the system work? What is the system? The answer
lies in how a film is made in this country.
Unlike other filmmaking
nations, we don’t begin with a script or an idea. We begin with
a star. Who is that star? The star, most of the time, when he was a toddler,
thought that everybody’s parents made films or were part of films.
His friends think the same way. At school, they are treated as special
kids, because they are film-kids. They grow up watching every film in
trial shows, attending premieres, discussing, ‘your dad is in my
dad’s film with his aunty in it’ (mothers don’t play
heroines, you see!). Their aspiration is to be as popular, if not more,
than that ‘uncle’ who used to visit them.
These stars often
can’t deal with the real world or relate to it. (The first generation
could, which is visible in the films they made). When these kids grow
up and became stars, their role models are not people but roles played
by actors THEY are awed by because they don’t have an access to
THEM — a Mel Gibson in Mad Max, a Rambo, Rocky or Spiderman.
So how do you attract
THAT star? Simple: take the dvd of the film he wishes he were in. Once
you’ve the star, distributors are interested in you. Now all you
need is a hacker like me who can adapt it, lend it an ‘Indianness’
by creating a love story and song situation, take away the cuss words
and the bloody shot, and pre-sell the film.
films based on
I charge extra
to work on some-
body else’s script’
Since the buyer goes
for a film because of the star, the producer doesn’t care about
the story or its originality. It’s such an irony that we release
films the same week as the first copy comes out. Distributors decide to
take delivery or reject a film by the ‘heat’ they think TV
promos of the film have earlier generated. The exhibitor is party to this
act, buying films based on their glossy wrapping.
The audience is not
party to this deal, so it doesn’t bother to come to the theatre.
It prefers to wait at home to see it on TV or the cable, or on a pirated
That is how we lose
Rs 500 crore annually and yell for an industry status, complain about
the annual national budget ignoring the film industry and blame piracy
for what we lack.
There is no point
of view in this industry, no milieu to speak of, no objectivity, no perception,
and no acountability for what we make. There are either a lot of very
rich kids playing an expensive game with expensive toys and getting away
with it, or a lot of us who aspire to be them. And then there are those
people living on the edge with a bagful of original ideas and a heart
full of passion. But then, all doors are closed to them.
I call the third
kind the ‘outsiders’. They are outsiders because they threaten
to do away with the security blanket in which the film industry system
is comfortably tucked in. The outsiders are rejected not because nobody
wants them but because no one understands them, since they don’t
have a reference point to what they have to offer.
These outsiders believe that there is so much cinema to be made from what
they (read we) live through that they don’t need to pirate ideas
like some anti-piracy filmmakers. Yet, the outsider’s quiet confidence
is seen as arrogance, while the insider’s self-proclamation of greatness
is seen as confidence. So, in a so-called industry where no one seeks
originality or patronises it, in an industry of pirates why should we
not let our kind co-exist? Let’s get together and help our cause.
Let piracy prevail.
The writer is
the director of Black Friday and Paanch