Hari Narayan finds out what happens when a passionate cinephile starts hoarding DVDs.

In the early 1990s, the biggest faux paus an average Hindi movie buff could commit while having a cine-talk with another was, asking: “Have you seen Sholay”? The response would be similar to the treatment given by the paanwala in the chloromint ad on being asked a seemingly innocuous question: “Hum choloromint kyon khaate hain?”

The moral of the story in both cases: “Dobara mat poochna!”

It was (and still is) considered a la mode to boast of having watched Sholay many times — the numbers always increasing in geometric progression. That was when I began developing an appetite to collect Hindi movies, wondering “How on earth could someone ‘manage’ to get the ‘resources’?” I wanted to “preserve” among other movies, Sholay, in my personal repertoire.

Fast forward. It’s 2013. Indian cinema completes 100 years and I complete almost a decade since I purchased Sholay — investment implanted into my subconscious earlier. I realise that relationship between a passionate cinephile and cinema does get taken to the next level when one starts housing movies.

Why should anyone invest his/her hard-earned money in this attention-cum-time-deficit age on two to three hours of entertainment hardwired into a metal disc? Isn’t the Home Video industry supposed to “die” a natural death due to its unprofitability?

I decided to find out from some of the most ardent cinephiles — passionate about Indian cinema — residing in different corners of the country, connected by their feverish passion. The children of pre-multiplex era, we found it difficult to have access to films at home (apart from Doordarshan).

Cable TV was in its infancy. Renting a VHS used to cost a princely Rs.10 per tape (renting a VCR, if you don’t own that luxury would possibly cost more). At that time, we dreamt of owning films of our favourite directors, actors — Hrishikesh Mukerjee, Amitabh Bachchan and others.

The craving that we felt — during moments like when “Jumma chumma” was censored out; then sold in black at exorbitant sums as a standalone track; or when the Anil Kapoor version of “Ek do teen” from Tezaab was excised out — translated into desire to get “hold” of such stuff so that we could experience it full-fledged.

While the average cinema attendance in the U.S. hovers around 4 to 5 films per year, in India — possessing just 1/46 the U.S. GDP per capita — it is comparable at three films. (Source: Media piracy in emerging economies by Social Science and Research Council (SSRI), New York, released in 2011.)

However, “owning” a movie used to be unaffordable for the average movie lover until recently.

Relationship between a passionate movie-buff and cinema extends beyond a cursory viewing — it extends to spotting and revelling in the nuances, in those Eureka moments when one sees elements of one culture in another — when one views Inkaar after high and low (Akira Kurosawa) and finds similarities yet differences — the former a masala thriller, the latter having political undertones; when one realises that Sholay is much more than a pastiche of seven samurai.

This relationship is taken to the next level when one starts housing movies. Getting to understand the director’s oeuvre — by watching four or five of his films — requires one to have good copies of the film. Owning different films of a director’s oeuvre in original could be an auto-didact’s delight.

In 2005 and 2006, Moser Baer triggered a revolution of sorts when it acquired Home-Video distribution rights to over 10,000 films and released them at a starting price of Rs.34 for a DVD, going on to make available many new releases. Its DVD of the hit Jab We Met (priced a little higher at about Rs.50) sold over six million discs, five weeks after the film’s theatrical release in 2008 (a record of sorts then).

Mumbai-based Divya Solgama is a 30-something architect and interior designer. However, it is in his other avatar, as a movie buff, that he is more popularly known. “I remember spending around Rs.500 for a Namak Halaal CD in the late 1990s”, he says, adding “Once the Moser Baer-era came up, I emptied their store, and also my pocket.”

A bhakt of the trinity of Amitabh-Kishore-Pancham (apart from the much holier Rajesh-Kishore-Pancham), there is hardly any “shot” or “moment” featuring/created by — by design or by accident — the three that he doesn’t have; and has gifted the mega star some of his rarest stuff available — including a montage of his special appearances in films like Charandas, Naya Bakra and Commander.

Among his most prized possessions are Guide (in English), Shalimar (in English), Ajooba (in Russian) and Maine Pyar Kiya (in English) — some of them converted versions of VHS tapes. Speaking about Mahaan (in which Amitabh had a triple role), he exclaims: “The sequence where the older Amitabh sings ‘jidhar dekhoon teri tasveer’ over the phone to Waheeda was not in DVDs of either Time or Shemaroo. So, I had to go great lengths to get the portion; the Esquire version had it.” This apart, he is proud to have gifted a copy of the unreleased Maanav-hatya to Madhuri Dixit, his favourite actor (female).

Some other rare movies he has include — Jwala (the only colour movie of Madhubala); Jungle ka jawahar (featuring “fearless” Nadia); Ganga maang rahi balidaan (Sohraab modi); Baankelaal (last released film of Prithviraaj Kapoor); and the complete versions of Sangam and Mera naam joker (four hours each) (“Shemaroo has cut them by half-an-hour,” he says.).

Has the “madness” for collection become redundant? He disagrees: “Portions like Basu Chatterjee’s special appearance in Jalwa have been lost forever. I want to keep stock of such rare stuff — they may or may not be available online forever.”

Peer-to-peer file sharing is the elephant in the room while having conversation on Home Video, considering that the future of Indian Home video industry does appear gloomy. Indian Home Video market came down from Rs.7.5 billion (2007) to Rs.3.8 billion (2011) and is expected to de-grow to Rs.0.9 billion by 2016. (Confederation of Indian Industry (CII)), signifying that the Moser Baer revolution has run its course. FICCI report on India media industry 2012 quoted Harish Dayani, CEO of Moser Baer entertainment as telling “Home video in its physical form has lived its life. To satiate home entertainment requirements, Moser Baer is evaluating alternate formats with a sustainable delivery model.”

However, a quick analysis shows that there is some light at the end of the tunnel — piracy may well end up changing the rules of the game. The SSRI study gives the T-Series example. The company, started by fruit juice shop owner-turned-music-mogul Gulshan Kumar, changed music distribution rules in the early 1990s. “In a market dominated by two government-licensed companies — HMV and EMI — audio cassettes were priced between $3.60 and $4.60 (around Rs.100 in those days). T-Series reduced the price of cassettes to $2.50, fuelling the first mass market in recorded Indian music,” the study says.

Further, the companies manufacturing original copies are/were not really above “pandering” to the piracy-induced demand. In an interview he gave in 1993, media scholar Peter Manuel (quoted in the SSRI report) said, “When HMV found that it could not meet the demand for one of its biggest hits, Maine Pyar Kiya, it reportedly entered into an agreement with pirate cassette producers to raise their price on the album from Rs.11 to Rs.13 and pay HMV half a rupee for every unit sold. HMV, in return, promised not to sue them or raid their businesses. Other producers also colluded with pirates in order to minimise their costs, taxes, and royalty payments to artists.”

At present, companies like Rajshri Productions and Eros Entertainment charge for online content on a pay-per-view or pay-per-download basis. So perhaps, further streams of revenue need to be explored.

“I don’t visit temples, but I visit book-shops, I visit audio/video-shops,” says Devendra Prabhune. Working for LIC and living in Yavatmal, Maharashtra, he says his romance with music began in the 1970s. Calling himself the “biggest Ilayaraja worshipper” in India, he boasts of having the maestro’s complete collection, apart from films of many other directors, most prominent being Marathi and Hindi versions of V. Shantaram films. He laments the declining appreciation among music lovers for quality cinema/music. “People travel in ‘Fortune’ car worth Rs.20 lakh but they buy pirated audio disc for Rs.20. Bas music baj rahaaa hai, it’s enough for them. They don’t care about its quality.”

More of an audiophile than a cinephile, he likes collecting national award-winning music albums. He regrets the non-availability of the Lalgudi Jayaraman-composed “Sringaaram”.

Sajal Kumar (25) territory manager for Airtel in Indore is a cinephile as well as a bibliophile. Having great interest in literature-based-cinema, he says despite movies being available for download/online streaming (illegal), in future, he would like to buy his favourites in original. Some of his possessions include — Parsai kahte hain (serial based on stories of Harishankar Parsai, which he bought from Dilli Haat; he recalls spotting a young Nawazuddin Siddiqui in it); Shaktimaan (the Mukesh Khanna serial). His collection includes films such as Suraj ka saatwan ghoda, Bazaar, Paar and Ijaazat. He says he keeps buying from Moser Baer, Shemaroo.

S. Nelson Singh (28), working in Delhi as an education consultant, hails from Imphal — a place with electricity supply available for just 6 to 7 hours a day and Hindi movies being banned from screening in theatres. Collecting films for a decade, his shelf boasts of all Hritik Roshan and Shah Rukh Khan films. As a matter of habit, he buys films before embarking on his home trips — to gift them to his mother. Low-priced discs help bringing quality cinema home, he feels.

Many urbanites have multiple terabyte hard discs, most of the film-filled folders lying dormant — a point attested by a leading film-writer. I wonder if those homogenous, neatly arranged bundles provide the same mood a mere DVD cover or poster could provide?

Divya feels that the charm of buying original DVD lies in getting a “feel” of its era through its cover/poster. Having many friends who have given and want to give their LP records and VHS records to him, he narrates one poignant episode. “An online friend passed away under unfortunate circumstances. Three months later, his wife contacted me, asking me, as per her husband’s wish, to accept around 150 VHS tapes, painstakingly collected by her husband. I have carefully preserved it.”

There are many others who voluntarily give him their stuff, considering him the true johri (jeweller) knowing the value of their heera (diamond). Perhaps Indian cinema is in need of more such johris?

CINE BITS

The earliest Indian talkie available on Home Video is V. Shantaram’s Marathi movie Ayodhyecha Raja (Ayodhya ke Raja in Hindi), released in 1932.

Movies like Manthan (Shyam Benegal), Raakh (Aditya Bhattacharya), Libaas, Lekin (Both by Gulzar) are yet to be made available.

Some “rare” Hindi films — those of directors like Mani Kaul, Tapan Sinha, Mani Kaul — were recently released by NFDC under “Cinemas of India”.