Kollywood battles a faceless villain

Producers’ council chief says the industry has to go digital after allegations that not enough is being done.

Updated - December 11, 2016 11:48 am IST

Published - December 11, 2016 08:18 am IST - CHENNAI

Hitech-hitch: There are calls to tap into the potential that legal online streaming of movies offers with the advent of several websites.

Hitech-hitch: There are calls to tap into the potential that legal online streaming of movies offers with the advent of several websites.


On Thursday night, earlier this week, reports surfaced on social media about the arrest of three persons who had been involved in running a popular website that illegally hosted pirated versions of Tamil, Telugu and Malayalam films online.

This was followed by a flood of memes and even YouTube videos, depicting disappointed reactions of the users of the website. A bullish tweet put out from a Twitter handle apparently associated with the website asked people not to worry because “No admins had been arrested.”

Many websites like these have started to thrive, with some even announcing beforehand as to when a pirated version of a movie will be up online. While the country earlier this year had made ‘viewing, downloading, exhibition and duplication of pirated content’ punishable for up to three years in jail and attracting a fine of Rs. 3 lakh, there seems to be no way to deter piracy with movies being streamed across a number of websites.

In 2010, Sarathkumar starrer ‘Jaggu Bhai’ was leaked online and DVDs had been sold in the market much before its release, and earlier this year, ‘Maapla Singam,’ a movie starring actor Vemal, was reported to have leaked online. Recalling an incident in 2014 in which he caught two local cable channels illegally telecasting two new Tamil releases, actor and producer Vishal said he had noticed that the cable channels generated revenue by carrying advertisements from local retail shops. “When I questioned them about this, they said that they would pay the producer Rs. 5,000 as compensation for the illegal telecast. How is this fair in any way?”


Despite measures taken by the makers of the Rajinikanth-starrer ‘Kabali’ against piracy, scenes from the movie, recorded from a premiere show outside the country, and, later the entire film, were put out on social media sites a day before the movie released here. The admin of the site that released the film promised that it would, despite all the monitoring, and indeed managed to, cock a snook at the establishment.

Recording in theatres

“People who record movies at theatres book seats in bulk so that that no one can notice them. Since they need to get prints out online within a day of the movie’s release and they know that theatres will be crowded, many of them have begun to record Tamil movies in theatres outside the State where there is sparse crowd,” explained Vishal, who is also the general secretary of the South Indian Artists Association (Nadigar Sangam).

Digital Cinema provider Qube currently has a forensic watermark which is invisible and attached to prints of movies they distribute. “If we get directed towards the print of a moviewhich has been recorded in a theatre and being shared online, we can look at the watermark and identify which theatre the movie has been recorded from,” said Senthil Kumar, co-founder of Real Image Technologies.

Earlier this year, the Surya starrer ‘24’ was found to have been illegally recorded at a screen in PVR Cinemas at Orion Mall in Bengaluru on the first day of its release, which Qube was able to identify through the invisible watermark on the movie print.

The producers council

Despite the availability of means to zero in on the theatre where video recording has been allowed, there is an overwhelming feeling in the industry that the Tamil Film Producers’ Council has not been doing enough to curb it. Its president Kalaipuli S. Thanu has recently faced severe criticism from Vishal on this count.

The Producers’ Council has been found wanting when it comes to addressing myriad issues plaguing the industry such as streamlining of releases, representing the interests of the stakeholders to the government for exemptions, raise in ticket prices and finding new revenue streams to monetise the films.

Underlining that ‘going digital on the internet’ is the future, Mr. Thanu said that the chasm between the distributors, theatre owners and the producers will ultimately be resolved in favour of the producers. “We are still talking to them. We want to go digital with their consent,” he said.

Specifically speaking about Vishal’s allegation that the producers’ council has not penalised PVR Cinemas in Orion Mall, Bengaluru despite overwhelming evidence, he said it had done its part already. “We have written to the Bangalore Film Chamber already and they haven’t yet followed up. I can only do so much,” he said.

Alternate legal avenues

There are a number of movie streaming sites, specifically focussing on Tamil cinema, catering to Tamils living in countries such as U.S., UK, Europe, Middle East and Singapore and Malaysia. These sites, which offer delayed release of movies online, are now growing at 100 per cent year on year.

“There are at least 2.2 million Tamil families living around the world. And this number is growing. We are expecting a 100 per cent increase in our subscriptions for the next few years at least,” said Aathitian, who runs Hero Talkies.com.

Stating that the revenue from online streaming can really help films that aren’t doing too well at the box office, he said that producers must explore more options on how their product could be exploited over a period of time.

Digital distribution firms such as Hero Talkies.com and Tentkotta.com can help the film industry to monetise their films much more than what they can do with just theatre release.

“But they have to be dynamic. If the film isn’t doing well in theatres, they can release it online on the fourth day. Otherwise, the film is going to tank very badly as it is not practical and possible to control piracy once it is out in public,” added Mr. Aathitian.

Noting that producers must also come up with win-win partnerships, he explained, “The producers say, ‘Give us money up front and do whatever you want with it.’ But such a model can’t work. We are also ready to work for zero profit margins with the producers in the beginning.”

Stating that with Netflix and Amazon hosting content for legal viewing, Vishal said that producers in Kollywood must be given the freedom to explore options and generate revenue.

Mr. Senthil further elaborated on the need for production houses to prevent leaks and thefts at the source as well. “Any office or building that has the prints of a movie needs to have a proper security system in place with regular security audits done. There have been instances of persons involved in post-production who have access to the movie, copying it and then circulating it online,” he explained.

Mr. Thanu declared that the film industry as a whole needed to come together and take a ‘drastic and decisive step’ to curb piracy, and promotes a rather bold idea: “If we shut the industry down for three months, not release movies at all, then all the stake-holders will come and talk to us,” he said. This would serve as a leverage to impose a set of ‘rules and regulations’ to the movie theatres and fundamentally alter the business practices.

“We can then demand that everything that is being spoken about – forcing the theatres to install CCTV cameras in the cabin, authorising who can come into the cabin and so on, need to be adhered to. Then they will come down and do it. Until then, I don’t see a solution. It has to be a co-ordinated effort,” he stressed.

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