Back in 2002, celebrated Indian filmmaker Adoor Gopalakrishnan, unhappy with the film distribution system, mentioned in an interview that he would prefer his movies to be pirated rather than not being seen at all.
His Nizhalkkuthu - the first ever film that enumerated the guilt and pain of an executioner in the erstwhile princely state of Travancore (now part of Kerala) - had just opened in Thiruvananthapuram and a few other cities around. But there was no chance of the movie being screened in any other state - not even in neighbouring Tamil Nadu or Karnataka or Andhra Pradesh.
True enough to what he had said, one did come across pirated editions of Nizhalkkuthu in Chennai's Burma Bazaar.
Adoor was happy that his work was being circulated, albeit illegally. "At least this way, more people can watch Nizhalkkuthu," he said tongue-in-cheek.
Over a decade later, Russian director Andrei Zvyagintsev, has said that he would want his Oscar-nominated film, Leviathan, to be seen by as many people as possible. And he suggested that people download the movie illegally and savour it.
Leviathan is a work that rips apart state corruption, and shows the extent officials are willing to go in order to satisfy their greed. Obviously, the film has been heavily scissored in Russia and has been allowed to open merely in 650 theatres - even though it is in the race for the Best Foreign Language Picture at the upcoming Academy Awards.
Zvyagintsev is keen that people in Russia see the movie as he had made it - as he had intended it to be viewed.
The Hollywood Reporter states that four million people had downloaded Leviathan since it was leaked online a couple of weeks ago. The film will perhaps clinch the Oscar as it is the favourite at the moment. The increasing buzz around the movie and its recent win at the Golden Globes might well help it on the big night in Los Angeles on February 22.
Leviathan - a bleak tale inspired by the Job story in the Bible about a man in northern Russian fighting an evil bureaucrat over a patch of land - has been lambasted by the country's Culture Ministry, which said the characters in the film are not Russians at all. The director, however, contradicted this by averring that this film was all about Russia and Russians. He added that Russians were living in a feudal system where one man controlled the rest into subordination.
Leviathan is not the only movie whose illegal distribution is sought to be justified. Some weeks ago, the world saw how the American satire, The Interview -- threatened with a terror attack by North Korea on those cinemas daring to screen it -- was copied in hundreds of pen-drives that were inserted into balloons and dropped close to that country's borders. How ingenuous!
In India, piracy is rampant, and most films are available for as little as Rs 40 a disc. In fact, Puducherry, a two-hour drive from Chennai along the scenic East Coast Road, is said to be the country's piracy capital.
Essentially, there are three reasons why piracy happens in India. One, lack of availability. With the kind of prudish censorship practised in India, many foreign auteurs are not willing to have their movies distributed in India. Two, the cost of a legal DVD is unreasonably high. The difference between a legal and pirated disc is steep. Three, an unsatisfactory system of distribution.
Most Malayalam works do not open in Tamil Nadu or Andhra Pradesh or Karnataka - let alone in other parts of India. And not many Tamil films can been seen outside Tamil Nadu. Bengali pictures hardly travel outside Bengal.
One supposes that any effective fight against film piracy must factor these causes. Otherwise, this battle can never be won.