Tech and Culture

Making sense of Bollywood movie piracy …

I watched Kaal in the evening today, and logging back onto the Internet got me thinking about the effect of the Internet on the Indian movie industry. As everyone is aware, it is possible, and rather easy to download the latest movies from the Internet. Ofcourse, since I do not formally condone piracy, I will keep the discussion on techniques and tools to do this out of here.

It is a sure fact that total numbers representing piracy of Bollywood movies are dwarfed by those of Hollywood movies, and the distributors of Hollywood movies do in fact lose a lot of money on account of piracy. On the other hand, in the case of Bollywood movies, piracy actually leads to proliferation of the industry to other cultures. For example, after the ban of Indian movies in Pakistan a few years ago, the only way to obtain Bollywood flicks is through piracy. As such, Indian movies are very popular in Pakistan, and that country also serves as one of the main “godowns” of bootleg prints re-manufactured for distribution.

Outside India, in the US, although there are cities with impressive cinema hall facilities to watch movies on the big screen, for the most part, expatriate Indians still depend on VHS tapes and DVDs to get their dose of desi entertainment. This mode of entertainment does not serve well to pass on a pie of Bollywood to a typical non-Indian who is either indifferent to anything other than Hollywood, or depends on International film festivals organized at prime locations for broadening his movie experiences.

This is where piracy through the Internet really contributes to extending the reach of our film industry. Anyone with a broadband connection can, practically, download top quality rips of Indian movies to be viewed later at their convenience. My rationale is that in such small international markets, piracy is going to happen one way or the other due to lack of infrastructural support. Keeping online piracy unabated does not really affect Bollywood’s bottom line a whole lot. On the contrary, free access to Indian movies often times motivates expatriates to actually invest in India to make quality movies on themes they deem appropriate for the international audience.

Back home, piracy has always been present, but has never been curtailed with a very high level of zealousness. This is because going to movies is an entirely different social and cultural activity in India. Movies are watched to bring the family together on that odd weekday. Such an event is often times actually planned a lot in advance. It is like a celebration of sorts. Hence, as long as a movie has any appeal, people will spend money to watch it at a cinema hall. Watching it in front of the TV or on the computer just doesn’t cut it. How are you going to throw in the popcorn, the pre-movie shopping, the samosas, and the fun evening out if you sit in your home to “celebrate” a movie.

Hence, I am of the opinion that unlike its Hollywood counterparts, Bollywood should not be rigid about enforcing copyright and anti-piracy laws for its movies. Maybe we could then show the world how not to make the average college student unhappy, and make profits at the same time…

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