The udta allegation of promoting piracy serves the Central Board of Film Certification chief Pahlaj Nihalani and his team just right.
In popular perception, Nihalani has established himself as an incompetent sycophant working for his benefactors and a conservative charlatan claiming to be the guardian of Indian values and honour of states like Punjab.
Whether the censor board is complicit in the online leak of Udta Punjab is for cops to find out (which they never will). But the alleged notoriety is a deserved addition to Nihalani's tragi-comic CV. It is the right punishment for his karma and self-righteous drama that he staged before being asked to clear Udta Punjab by the courts with just one cut.
But, let us be the devil's advocate once and try to understand if Nihalani and his team could have indeed leaked the film's print before its scheduled release on 17 June. Could Team Nihalani have been so daft as to commit a crime and leave evidence flying all around the place?
For those who are not grounded in facts, here is the backdrop of the latest controversy surrounding Udta Punjab and Nihalani. On Wednesday, a pirated version of Anurag Kashyap's film Udta Punjab was leaked on the web. It can now be downloaded as easily with the click of a button.
The pirated version, much to Nihalani's deserved misery, carries a watermark that suggests the print that was leaked came from the censor board. On the sites where the film is available for download, the title claims it has been ripped from the censor board.
Now, that is one smoking gun too many, a crime apparently so stupid that it leads straight to the perpetrator.
Udta Punjab is not the first film to be released on the internet before its commercial launch. Every year, hundreds of films from all across the world are uploaded online by an organised network. Last year's two biggest releases, The Hateful Eight and The Revanant, were released several weeks before they could hit theatres. Among Indian films, you can find prints of new releases like Housefull 3 on websites.
So, rid yourself of the notion that Udta Punjab has been sabotaged as part of some grand conspiracy or a revenge drama. Like all other films, it has also fallen in the hands of pirates.
There are several ways of illegally copying a film and releasing it online. The simplest is to just sit in a theatre, record it with a handycam and then upload it. These are called camera versions of films and have poor audio and video quality and are not in much demand.
The other versions are copied from the prints to distributors, theatres or for digital processing. In the west, digital prints of films are mailed to critics and journalists for review, especially for the Oscar season, from where they are routinely copied and pirated (The Revanant and The Hateful Eight are prime examples). In short: A film can be copied at various stages.
Watermarking a film, giving every print a unique code, is one of the mechanisms the industry has adopted to ensure investigators are able to track the source of piracy. But, here is the catch. The watermarks could be duplicated or even fabricated.
In 2013, a copy of The Secret Life of Walter Mitty leaked online with the watermark “Property of Ellen Degeneres” splashed across the screen, suggesting that the copy must have come from someone in her show’s production staff. Upon investigation, it was discovered this watermark was added by hackers themselves in an effort to throw authorities off their scent. (You can learn everything about it here.)
The pirated version of Udta Punjab, as you can see, could either be the handiwork of an idiot dying to self-incriminate or a smart hacker trying to create a false lead. But, either way it has given a deserved headache to the censor board and its chief.
It is an udta teer (stray arrow) that is threatening to prick Nihalani's pride and behind.
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