By Saurin Parikh
Recently, I read somewhere that the Indian film industry lost a bundle of millions in the last couple of years because of piracy. A few thousand jobs are said to have been lost because of filmi pirates (not the kind who appear on-screen) as well. The article that disclosed these figures failed to mention how exactly piracy accounted for all of these loses, but it did say that piracy is a grave problem that was eating into the coffers of Bollywood. Piracy is also said to be funding terrorist operations.
Now, that made me ponder the reasons behind piracy. We all know that piracy is rampant, but why? The most obvious answer is that because we buy pirated CDs and DVDs that are easily available at every corner. The supply is definitely meeting the demand, but the demand is there because there is no way around it. The fact is that Bollywood doesn’t give two hoots about the viewing audience.
Every year, hundreds of movies are made. Billions are spent behind making movies, the producers and directors go to unprecedented lengths while making the film, the actors do the same while enacting and promoting the movie. But after all the dust settles down, the end product invariably turns out to be a disappointment. The really good movies that come out in a year are so few that you can count them on your hands, without using up all your fingers. And I’m not even exaggerating. Sometimes I wonder why Bollywood doesn’t devote the same amount of time to the film’s story as it does to its pre-release publicity. In fact, I am sure more time is spent on cooking up box office figures to earn the ‘hit’ tag than on genuinely trying to make a genuine hit. Invariably, the movies with the biggest stars turn out to be the biggest duds. And the really good stories get pushed into obscurity.
At this point, you could argue with me saying that no filmmaker can preempt whether a film will succeed or not. True, no one can predict what will work and what won’t. But what they can do is do the right things the right way to give success a realistic chance. It doesn’t take a genius to understand that stories with loopholes, poor acting performances, done-to-death sequences, forced comedies, et al are not going to be welcomed with both hands. Why do Bollywood movies have the same stories rehashed again and again, with each new version being worse than the previous ones? For ages, Bollywood has aped Hollywood movies, now they can’t even do that properly.
The primary point of this argument is that these nitty-gritties don’t concern the average moviegoer. He is more concerned about making ends meet; he goes to the movies to get refreshed. He never asked any filmmaker to make a movie; he just asks to be sufficiently entertained. But when he comes back after having spent his hard-earned money on some lackluster film, he is bound to wonder why he just didn’t buy a pirated disc and save himself a lot of money and a whole lot of agony. A family of four would have to dish out anywhere between Rs 1,000 to Rs 1,500 to watch a film in a multiplex. Compare that to the Rs 50 to Rs 100 price of a pirated disc and you can see why piracy is rampant.
Film piracy is an evil, but it has become a necessary evil. To curb the problem, Bollywood needs to first look within itself. The movies are a multi-crore business; films are made because everyone involved wants to earn crores from it. Make no mistake about it, no one is in this industry for any other greater cause. It’s all about the money. And the greed is palpable. Actors ask for crores to do one movie, producers invest crores and make more via multiple avenues and marketing gimmicks… this is the kind of money that most moviegoers don’t even make in one lifetime. And yet you expect them to spend on a film that is plain ordinary and leaves a foul taste in their mouths? Not all films disappoint, but most do and why would someone spend a thousand bucks to take that chance?
To really curb piracy, the first thing that Bollywood should really do is make better movies, with stronger stories, on different subjects and with genuine intentions. The other things that could be done are things like getting into some kind of agreement with multiplex owners to ensure that a trip to the theatres costs less to moviegoers, or officially releasing a movie on DVD the same week (or even a week later) it comes out in theatres. Sure, this’ll make recovering the making costs a bit harder, but they can cut down on the making costs as well. Actor fees can be cut down by a few crores, foreign locations can be replaced by national ones, etcetera. The whole film fraternity needs to tackle this problem together, which they probably will never do. And which is why piracy will never go away.
The simple truth is that people like watching movies, but what they want is a good experience. No one likes coming out of a theatre in a foul mood, and that is what happens more often than not. A good movie will always find more takers; a bad one will find the gutters. Last year, Kaminey was the most downloaded Bollywood movie, downloaded close to 70 lakh times. How many times do you think Blue was downloaded? On a similar vein, 3 Idiots had record box office collections (it is still running in a few places), but why didn’t Kambakht Ishq do similar business? Is quality over quantity so hard to understand?
The film industry has blamed everyone from the public to the government to the pirates for the high amount of piracy, but the root of the problem is within them. They need to address that first.
[Saurin Parikh lives in Ahmedabad and runs the popular website Review Catalogue.]