Cannes, May 19: Bollywood is churning out a huge amount of trash, S. Jaipal Reddy, the minister for information, broadcasting and culture, acknowledged today.
Reddy is in Cannes to talk to senior officials of the Cannes Film Festival and host the now traditional showpiece Indian party today at the Carlton Beach on the Croisette.
The Indian pavilion, which had a prime location on the beach five years ago but then immediately disappeared, will be back next year, following Indian government talks with the Cannes festival authorities.
In his first exclusive interview after arriving in Cannes, Reddy also told The Telegraph of his determination to introduce anti-piracy legislation in Parliament “this calendar” year, under which culprits could even be sent to prison.
Although the minister put his criticisms of Bollywood in diplomatic language, he made clear his view that not enough world-class films were coming out of India ' an opinion shared, incidentally, by most knowledgeable Indian journalists who have come to Cannes from India and can compare their national output with that of China, for example.
“Not simply more but better” was the essence of Reddy’s appeal to the industry.
“In the field of cinema my passion is that the quality of the best cinema in India should be as high as that of films in other parts in the world,” said Reddy.
“India is already producing the largest number of films in the world ' more than 800 films every year. Indian society is vastly influenced by cinema ' perhaps more than in advanced countries. We have hundreds of millions of people who go to theatres.”
The Indian film industry is growing at the rate of 18 per cent a year, nearly three times the GDP, he pointed out.
He emphasised: “Along with growth in quantity there should be corresponding growth in quality as well. That’s my dream.”
At a personal level, he said: “I was not very much of a filmgoer but a politician does not have to see cinema to become interested in cinema. I am taking an interest in the cinema industry.
“Of late, public financial institutions ' banks ' have been lending money by way of loans. But they have been financing only big films, mostly big Bollywood films. There is a need to see that banks lend to producers in Calcutta, Chennai, Hyderabad and Trivandrum, most of whom produce quality films, which are not necessarily high-budget films.”
For years, Bollywood producers have been complaining to anyone who will listen about how they lose money through piracy (though Bollywood is itself guilty of ripping off Hollywood for everything, from songs to story lines).
“One big thing is hampering investment,” argued Reddy. “That is the problem of piracy.”
He said: “I want to enact a piece of legislation to counteract piracy. I am absolutely serious and in India these laws need to be eventually implemented by state governments.”
He explained: “To persuade the state governments to implement the laws very stringently, I had called a meeting of state ministers of information and all of them agreed to do everything in their power to see that piracy is curbed. We are thinking of enacting optical disc identification ' once that law is enacted, every disc can have its own distinctive number. It can’t be copied or if it is copied, you can trace it. We will go in for heavy penalties, including imprisonment.”
When it was pointed out to the minister that the British film industry has accused Pakistan of being the centre of Bollywood piracy, Reddy merely said: “We will try to take up the matter with the government of Pakistan.”
In Britain, where the government loses tax revenue because of widespread Bollywood piracy, one man has been sent to prison for selling fake DVDs and videos imported from Pakistan.
While pirates in Pakistan have successfully undermined Bollywood, the Indian government is secretly pleased that Indian films are so popular that they continue to be watched by ordinary people despite the Pakistan government’s official ban on their import.
Whether India can encourage Pakistan to curb piracy is unclear, especially as the Indian government’s attitude to the problem appears, at best, ambivalent.
Reddy seems to realise his reach his limited. “I am talking of piracy of Indian films in India. It’s a big problem.”
He said that the “statement of intent” he has already signed in Delhi with Tessa Jowell, the British minister for media, sport and culture, “will soon take the shape of a co-production agreement”.
He had come to Cannes via Rome, where he signed a co-production agreement with his Italian opposite number. “It is primarily an enabling framework under which the filmmakers of both the countries can shoot films in each other’s countries.”
There was a curious response from the minister when he was asked whether the Congress-led government of Manmohan Singh was committed to the decision taken under Atal Bihari Vajpayee to make Goa the permanent venue for the international Indian film festival.
The answer appears to be yes, though Reddy would only say: “We have not taken a final decision. However, we have decided to hold the international film festival of India in Goa in 2005 because we would like to see whether they (the state government) build up adequate infrastructure. So we will take a formal view after that.”
If Reddy is not entirely committed to making Goa an Indian version of Cannes, it is difficult to understand why he is making an expensive jaunt to Cannes at all.
His comment appears to be a warning to the Goa government to get its act together, though Reddy’s own officials say privately that the money required for putting the required infrastructure in place can only come from the Centre.