The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Pirates besiege five-day-old Bollywood biggie A still from Kal Ho Naa Ho: Sellout success
A still from Kal Ho Naa Ho: Sellout success

How many tomorrows lie in wait for Kal Ho Naa Ho may be uncertain (though a huge opening could mean quite a few), but the pirates have swooped in swiftly, to nip the film’s box-office success in the bud today.

Evidence enough is the Calcutta Police enforcement branch raid on bootlegging dens on Tuesday, seizing several copies of the five-day-old hit in the Ultadanga police station area. The vigilance department of the enforcement branch also seized a CD writer capable of producing “six copies in three minutes”, along with copies of other pirated films and soundtracks, said an officer of the department.

Distributors and hall-owners are optimistic that such quick action — including a number of high-yield raids in the past few weeks — may be the start of a loud message being sent out to the booming illegal trade. With video piracy sapping a struggling industry dry and Bollywood banking big time on this Shah Rukh Khan starrer to end a low year on a high, any action is welcome.

“The moment there is one pirated CD, there could be hundreds,” said Pritam Jalan of Jalan Distributors. Fifty prints of the film, also featuring Preity Zinta and Saif Ali Khan, have been distributed across Bengal, Bihar and Assam. Piracy eats away legitimate profits across the board, and Jalan estimates damages of “over 60 per cent in the districts” and “up to 25 per cent in Calcutta”, for a big Bollywood release that falls prey to widespread piracy.

“If the police continue like this, it can help,” adds Jalan, whose piracy battle began in a big way with Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge. In the case of Kal Ho…, he had heard of raids in Rajkot and Ludhiana and alerted the police that “enforcement was required”. Such alarm bells are not uncommon ahead of a big release.

If the pirates are kept away, Nikhil Advani’s debut venture has a good chance of being the turnaround film the industry has been craving. With “around 98 per cent collections” in the city so far and “70 to 80 per cent” in the districts, Jalan is upbeat about the film bettering the year’s other success story, Koi... Mil Gaya, and maybe even pulling a Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham. And with Inox running full at Rs 200 and Rs 180 a seat — the biggest ticket tag the city has seen — and other halls levying between Rs 75 to Rs 150 (though second-week rates should be slashed), the figures are perking up.

Arijit Dutta, president, Eastern India Motion Pictures Association, feels Bengal has been “one of the first states to recognise the problem of piracy”. The government has set up committees across the state, comprising stakeholders, to devise strategies to check the bootleg drain. In October, pirated VCDs worth Rs 2.5 lakh were recovered in the Hare Street police station area. In August, the vigilance department seized about 5,000 pirated audio and VCDs worth Rs 2 lakh from Chandni Chowk market. Those arrested are charged under the Copyright Act, and could be convicted for “up to three years” for the cognisable non-bailable offence.

The scale of the crime, aided by modern digital technology, is such that stopping all unauthorised copies from reaching the market is an unrealistic ambition. “But even if we could get four or five months for a big film without piracy, we could recover our money,” says Dutta.

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