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Fighting the rot within

The Mumbai police are triumphant about their arrest this week of four film industry insiders for piracy. The industry is shaken and stirred, but somewhat reluctant to confront its guilt, report Shahkar Abidi and Serena Menon.

mumbai Updated: Sep 27, 2009 02:02 IST
Shahkar Abidi/Serena Menon

When the crime branch of the Mumbai police arrested four employees of some of India’s biggest movie production houses early this week for piracy, there was much celebration all around.

The arrest proved what most suspected anyway — that film piracy could not flourish without the complicity of people inside the industry.

But what was perhaps surprising was that the people arrested are high-placed managers. Neerav Shah (30) is manager (overseas distribution) with Reliance Big pictures; Durgadas Bhakta (44) is manager (business development), Adlabs films; Kalapi Nagda (29), is head of overseas distribution, Shemaroo films; and Rajesh Chowdhary (34), an associate vice-president with UFO moviez.

And Joint Commissioner of police (crime) Rakesh Maria, who spearheaded the case, has said, “This is just the tip of the iceberg; more skeletons may tumble out of the cupboard.”

With the film piracy sector making four times the money that the Indian film industry does, there is a lot at stake.

According to a 2008 US India Business Council/Ernst & Young report, movie pirates in India make over Rs 4,650 crore while a 2009 FICCI PriceWaterhouse report puts the film industry’s turnover at just over Rs 1,093 crore.

The industry, which has been screaming itself hoarse about piracy eating into its profits, now has to confront the rot within its own system.

However, many industry bigwigs seem to be reluctant to do so. (See ‘The industry at large is not involved in piracy’.)

For instance, Harish Dayani, chief executive of the films division of Moserbaer Home Entertainment, declares, “This is corruption at the individual level and has nothing to do with the institution of the film business.”

While Dayani concedes, “What has happened must not be undermined; it i a good beginning,” he adds, “But are you saying the enforcement authorities do not know how openly pirated DVDs and CDs are sold? If we don’t go out in the market and catch them, the arrest of the four people who have been caught will be wasted.”

Dayani also points to reports that piracy finances organised crime and terrorism and says, “About 150 crore pirated DVDs are watched every year. All those people should know that they might be fueling terrorism.”

The industry has, of course, been making its own attempts to fight piracy. Shemaroo Home Entertainment, who own the DVD rights to many blockbusters, say they maintain an anti-piracy cell of their own, whose job is to tip off the police authorities.

Many production houses now imprint a digital watermark on their master copies, which cannot be noticed by the naked eye, but could help investigators find out which production house it might have come from.

However the pirates are always one step ahead of the law. In fact, says Rakesh Maria, “The methods adopted by the pirates have evolved technologically. And young, educated boys are being lured into the racket.”

The roadside vendor selling pirated ‘camera prints’ (prints shot of films as they play in the theatre) has been replaced by suave, well-educated, tech-savvy IT professionals.

In the recent arrest, for example, the police nabbed three persons from Kherwadi with the DVD of What’s your Raashee? It was they who spilled the beans during police and dropped the name of Durgadas Bhakta (44) of Adlabs. Among them was a tech-savvy Tanzim Syed (24). “Computer experts like Tanzim Syed can make Rs 10,000 just by mailing a pirated film to the dealer in Pakistan, from where it is circulated all over the world. It takes not more then 30 minutes to mail the entire film,” says Maria.

In a joint international effort to fight piracy, the Moving Pictures Association of America (MPAA) set up its first Indian branch in Mumbai called the Motion Picture District Association (MPDA).

“We’ve teamed up with Reliance BIG pictures, Moserbaer, Yashraj, UTV and Eros to fight piracy,” says Rajiv Dalal, MD of MPDA India. Among their initiatives is one to stop ‘camcorder piracy’ or ‘camera prints’. Launched in association with PVR Cinemas, Adlabs and Fun Cinemas earlier this month, the initiative sets up training sessions for theatre employees to curb camcorder piracy.

But as Maria points out, that method is on its way to obsolescence anyway. Which means that the film industry is, once again, lagging behind the pirates.