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Mission to pluck Kaante thorn
- American investigator in Britain to track movie pirates

London, Jan. 2: An American investigator has flown into Britain from Los Angeles to stamp out a flourishing piracy trade in copies of Kaante.

Pirate DVD copies of the Bollywood adaptation of Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs have been acquired from Asian outlets in Southall and Wembley in west London and from Forest Gate in east London by Kevin Gors, an investigator from an American agency called Security Services.

Piracy of Bollywood films is said to be a “huge problem” but is nothing new. Unlike Indian films, though, Kaante, is protected under US law because the production company, Bollywood Pictures Inc, is registered in California — and Gors intends making this a very unhappy new year for the pirates.

“What is new about Kaante is that this is the first Bollywood movie which has been shot entirely in Los Angeles with a Hollywood crew,” said Gors, as he prepared to return to the US with a thick dossier on the alleged culprits. “It’s technically brilliant.”

He added: “The worldwide copyright for Kaante is held by an American company, Bollywood Pictures Inc, which means anyone found guilty in the States of piracy is looking at a minimum fine of $250,000. Under American law, the copyright holder has to protect his rights aggressively.”

By Hollywood standards, the film’s budget of $9 million is modest but in the UK, it had taken £269,000 by Sunday —enough to push it into the number seven position in the British box office. In the US, Kaante has so far done business worth $830,000.

In Britain, DVDs, said to be of poor quality, are selling for just over £15, which represents quite a saving if entire families watch the movie.

“I have a list of 50 people in the UK and the US who have been involved in the piracy,” declared Gors grimly. “We have raided premises in New York, Chicago and San Francisco. Are we going to move against them' You bet. In America, we have called in the FBI. In London, I have coordinated our action with the legal attache at the American Embassy, the DTI (department of trade and industry) and Scotland Yard.”

As to how pirate copies are made, Gors offered this theory: “They are done in theatres where projectionists are bought up. Cameras are set up to copy the film. Then the videos are copied in pirate factories in Pakistan, China and Singapore and then hundreds of thousands flood the markets worldwide. A total of 200 Bollywood films were released in the US in 2002, and all 200 were pirated. If we take action on Kaante, may be other Bollywood producers will benefit.”

The film has been produced by the Los Angeles-based Raju Patel, whose brother, Viju Patel, who lives in Britain, is handling Kaante’s UK distribution. “In Britain, pirate DVDs were available on Christmas Day,” Viju Patel revealed.

The pirate copies are improving in quality, however, said Avtar Panesar, whose company, Yashraj Films, is one of the biggest distributors of Bollywood films in Britain.

“The actual prints are copied onto telecine and then this mastercopy is copied in pirate factories,” he said.

“I have been pleading with the British film authorities to do something,” he added. “It’s a huge, huge problem which cuts our box office takings by up to 40 per cent.”

He emphasised that Bollywood now represents big business in Britain, with some muliplexes relying on Indian films to provide nearly half their takings.

As an example, Panesar cited Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham, the highest Bollywood grosser in Britain.

“It took £2.5 million and got to number three in the British box office last year,” said Panesar.

“I estimate 75,000 pirate copies of K3G have been sold. Had it not been for the piracy, I would have taken another £1 million to 1.5 million, which means the British exchequer has lost out on an extra £175,00 in VAT (tax) payments.”

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