OUR RIGHT TO DOWNLOAD?

Anurag Kashyap didn’t sermonize us on downloading a film from the internet. He didn’t go on explaining how it makes things difficult for the filmmakers on the financial front. He simply requested people to wait till Saturday to download Udta Punjab.

Now there is no data to see the effectiveness of Anurag Kashyap’s appeal has been. But given the row over the film and the talks of its portrayal of Punjab drug problem in a sincere way, as Shyam Benegal said that it was sensitive portrayal of the issue, and the Central Board of Film Certification’s attempts to delay the film or dilute its content, the film needed a good opening, reposing faith in people’s sensitivities on matters that directly affect people. And with Rs. 10 Crore box-office collection on Friday, we can say Udta Punjab got a satisfactory opening – in spite of the spectre of the online leak of the film before its release.

Now that its first Saturday is passé and Udta Punjab has received rave reviews, let’s turn to probably the most important element of Anurag Kashyap’s appeal that he wrote on his Facebook page on June 16 – ‘our right to download’.

Anurag Kashyap wrote – “I also say that no one can stop your right to download a film.”

Anurag is probably the first filmmaker in India who has openly endorsed the phenomenon of film downloading from the internet.

While the small time filmmakers cannot afford to care if the pirated prints of their films are available in the market or on the internet, the big names of the Indian film industry have taken extra precautions, including crackdown on piracy hubs and on websites, before their films hit the theatres.

Film and music industry associations in India have established their own anti-piracy monitoring agencies. They conduct raids on pirates in collaboration with the law enforcement agencies. They usually hire ex-police officers for this purpose. Julio Rebeiro is one of the most decorated police officers who have been associated with the initiative.

And even if Anurag Kashyap has advocated for ‘downloaders’ right to download’ films, Ekta Kapoor, another producer of Udta Punjab, had two sleepless night working with the law enforcement agencies to keep a tab on the download links of the movie.

So, did Anurag Kashyap err or was it a frustrated appeal driven by the realization that once a film gets online, there is no way to estimate how fast and how far it can spread – or was it a sincere appeal given the fact that he used terms like ‘lack of access’ and ‘free internet’. He wrote in his appeal – “Piracy happens because of lack of access and in a world of free internet, I do not have a problem with it.”

What Anurag has done could add to the marketing efforts of the film. The film has been in controversies. And the mass perception is – filmmakers and films were made victims by the establishment in this case – by the CBFC. And people tend to be on the victim’s side.

What Anurag says on ‘downloaders’ right to download a film’ is sort of Coelho-esque. The Brazilian author of the global best-seller ‘The Alchemist’ is a known backer of the pirates, at least of his books. According to an interview given to the Guardian, he has called on “all pirates of the world to unite and pirate everything he has ever written”.

Paulo Coelho writes in his official blog – “The physical sales of my books are growing since my readers post them in P2P sites (peer-to-peer file sharing sites).”

What Coelho gets through piracy of his books? He engages prospective readers first and then try to convert them into faithful readers by requesting them to buy a copy of his book if they liked it online.

We should not compare the two contexts here. A good book serves as a ‘collectible’ in your personal library’. It remains throughout there – physically. A film watching experience in a theatre doesn’t fulfil this need until the Blu-ray or DVD title is released, that usually happens after some months of the theatrical release.

But the point is – the most pirated prints online are not good in quality and if downloaders find it a brilliant creation worth a theatre visit, they would sure make a favourable decision – like going to the theatres.

Online piracy of films – if used as a marketing tool – if we see Anurag Kashyap’s appeal in this context – like Paulo Coelho does with his books – isn’t it then basically about connecting to the readers (or viewers) first?

LEGALITY OF DOWNLOADERS’ RIGHTS

Law says downloading films from the P-2-P sites is illegal. We regularly come across newsy items that this many of torrent websites have been blocked. Even then we know that film downloading is rampant.

It is like adults films in the theatres. It is like pornographic sites on the internet. If there are adult films being screened, they will find their viewers. If there are pornographic websites on the internet, we cannot stop people from visiting them.

Unless we crackdown on the theatres showing adult films. Unless we block the pornographic websites.

Those who believe in values like freedom of expression cannot for that that. Blocking pornography on the internet has divided the nation.

We cannot and we should crackdown on downloaders as long as there are content-sharing websites. If there is film available online for free, people would obviously download it.

CATCH THEM WHERE THEY ARE!

If the DVD business is dying – due to increasing digital distribution, cloud storage and piracy – if the BO collection has to remain under the shadow of piracy threats – then why can’t cinema be taken to more and more people – people who see the online access as the preferred reference point for their cinema-watching experience?

Why restrict cinema only to theatres? Why can’t a movie be released simultaneously in theatres and on the internet? Why can’t it be made available on cable television’s on-demand services?

According to a recent Google India report, one in ten online searches on Google is cinema related. Movie junkies on the internet frantically search for downloadable links whenever a new film hits the theatres. The next stage is obviously about sharing the file and in no time the film is all across the internet.

Even China could not prevent images of Wukan protests from going viral on the Internet and therefore in the whole world. Wukan is a Chinese village that was the epicentre of the anti-corruption protests in 2011 and had seen months long police-villagers standoff. Villagers alleged that their land was taken from them by the government officials and they were not paid proper compensation.

Even Russia could not effectively censor political bloggers and activists like Alexei Navalny for writing against Vladimir Putin. The internet is a maze where monitoring content is a tiresome process with no guarantee of results.

If China and Russia cannot stop the internet sites from hosting the material that they do not want, how can we expect the same from filmmakers?

That may be the realization behind what Anurag Kashyap has written.

Then why can’t it be used to advantage then? It is better to befriend an adversary whom you know you can never win.

Many people would come forward to pay for downloading a film on their smartphones or computers if they an authentic print on the same day the film is being released in the theatres. And when you cannot stop online piracy, whatever you get by making your film simultaneously available on the internet platforms will only increase your revenue.

ALSO, WATCHING FILMS IN THEATRES IS A SOCIAL HABIT

Going to the theatres to watch films is a social habit and by the growing number of films doing business over Rs. 100 Crore, we can say online film piracy has not hurt this habit so badly as is projected. In fact, the BO collection trend has shifted the business threshold for blockbuster films to Rs. 500 Crore.

A good case in point here is the major Hollywood hits. Any major Hollywood film that is released in India has its good print already available to download from the internet. In spite of that they do good BO business. The Revenant is 2015 Hollywood hit that was released in India in February 2016 and in spite of that it earned Rs. 3.5 Crore in its opening weekend, an impressive figure for a Hollywood film in India.

People who enjoy free time with films will always do so in the theatres – and they like to do so in the first week of the release of a film. According to a Deloitte report, a film in India earns as much as 60% of its total BO collection it the first week of its release.

©/IPR: Santosh Chaubey – https://santoshchaubey.wordpress.com/

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