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The Pirates of Kodambakkam

The Hindu, May 21, 2016

With illegal copies of new films continuing to flood the market, the Tamil film industry is desperately in need of a crackdown

Have the pirates taken over Kollywood? It certainly seems so, considering how pirated CDs of all the summer films were found available within hours of their release. In the case of Suriya’s time-travel thriller 24, the copy was traced to a multiplex in Bengaluru, putting an end to the usual notion that piracy occurs in overseas screens. Gnanavel Raja of Studio Green opens a can of worms by revealing how the film got pirated. He says, “24 was pirated on the first day of its release at PVR Orion Mall in Bengaluru. Piracy eats into 80 per cent of our box-office revenue. It has led to several veterans leaving this field. The industry should come together and take action soon.”

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According to a statement issued by QUBE Cinema, a leading digital cinema provider, 24 was illegally recorded during the 9.45 a.m. show on May 6 (first day of release) at PVR Orion Mall in Bengaluru. With the help of forensic watermarking, which uses an invisible identifying code unique to each theatre, QUBE was able to zero-in on the server, and found that it was registered with PVR Orion Mall’s screen 3.

In response to these allegations, PVR’s CEO, Kamal Gianchandani says, “Ours is a law-abiding company and we are against any form of piracy in the industry. Being in the industry for around two decades, we understand the gravity of the situation. As a responsible company, we ensure all the safety measures to prevent piracy. We have installed CCTV cameras in our cinemas and thoroughly frisk every person before the shows. Additionally, our security personnel go on frequent rounds inside the auditorium during the shows. We are in the process of investigating this matter internally. We will get back to our stakeholders at the earliest with concrete results.”

It isn’t just big-budget films that are affected by piracy. Composer-turned-actor G. V. Prakash, was recently reported to have met the Chennai City Police Commissioner to register a complaint regarding Pencil’s pirated versions.
An angry Vishal, the secretary of the Nadigar Sangam, says this is just the tip of the iceberg. “All the new films get pirated at Bengaluru multiplexes, and from two screens in Tamil Nadu. We want the Tamil Film Producers Council (TFPC) chief Kalaipuli Thanu to take strict action. Thanu’s own Theriwas pirated in the same multiplex. Now, they are likely pirating Maruthu.”

Vishal, who has been spearheading Kollywood’s efforts against piracy, had raided cable TV operators and got them arrested for illegally screening new Tamil films a few months back. Last week, a phone call to the actor from a Vijay fan travelling in a private bus screening Theri, saw the bus operator getting arrested. Another bus passenger sent a text message about Udhayanidhi Stalin’s Manithan being screened. The actor was again quick to seek help and get the driver and conductor arrested.
Piracy is more prevalent in Tamil cinema than in Telugu and Malayalam cinema. This has been attributed to how effective the respective governments have been on coming down on the pirates. In some cases in Kerala, the government cancelled the theatre’s licence for being in cahoots with the pirates. In Chennai, however, a theatre that was caught colluding with the pirates was shut down, only to get reopened a week later.

The theatres, for their part, distance themselves from being directly responsible. An exhibitor in Madurai says, “In most cases, it is just a single person with a camcorder who records these films. I don’t see why any Tamil Nadu theatre owner will risk being involved in piracy.”

A Tamil producer says it is hard for the government to take action against theatres, multiplexes like PVR especially, which control over 500 screens in India.

Senthil Kumar, co-founder of QUBE Cinema, says, “Piracy needs a strong, sustained enforcement effort, and unity between producers, theatres and digital providers. Firstly, producers should support and insist on digital players providing forensic watermarking in their players. Even though this is expensive, it is a critical requirement to stop piracy. Secondly, every theatre should include CCTV in their projection booth that points towards the audience so we can identify these perpetuators. Thirdly, we should have a fund for anti-piracy within the industry to take legal recourse. Lastly, we should engage with the government for a strong law, like the Anti-Camcording Act of 2010, which comes with stringent penalties.”

Vishal also has a solution, “We should release original DVDs of new releases within 10 to 20 days. After all, the theatrical shelf life of a hit film is just two weeks now. It is high time we fought the pirates.”