In his upcoming film Kabali, Rajinikanth plays a don who takes on villains from Chennai — and Malaysia.
But as the film approaches its 22 July release, the 'fight' its hero will have to engage in, isn't just on screen — it will be in the real world, and against the menace of piracy.
Producer Kalaipuli S Thanu obtained an order from the Madras High Court to stop illegal downloads of Kabali by "225 rogue websites and countless other unknown sites".
In his petition, Thanu pointed out that 70 percent of the income of 169 licensed internet service providers in India, comes from illegal downloads, which is in complete violation of the terms and conditions of the licence. Pointing out that it takes just Rs 20 to download a 150-minute movie in under eight minutes, Thanu says even 10,000 copies can then be made with minimal infrastructure in a matter of minutes.
Should this happen, Kabali, Thanu and Rajinikanth would be badly affected.
The world of video piracy is easily the biggest villain for the silver screen, one that threatens to reduce it to dust. India is home to 462 million internet users and 371 million mobile internet users and a majority of them use the internet to consume entertainment content. That threatens to make filmmakers and content creators an endangered community.
If for Udta Punjab, the first obstacle was Pahlaj Nihalani, the more serious threat came from download pirates, who almost brought the movie down. The Shahid Kapoor-starrer was leaked online on 15 June, two days before its release date. In 10 days, it had been illegally downloaded 9.16 lakh times. The illegal views came to 16.3 lakh. If drugs ruined Punjab's youth, the pirates did the same to Anurag Kashyap.
Take the case of Tollywood. Between January 2015 and May 2016, 202 Telugu films were released. The number of active pirated links that are available of these films is a staggering 14,392 links. The movies have been downloaded illegally over 89 lakh times, with illegal web streams coming to 4.4 crore.
During this period, the big release Baahubali took the maximum hit with 1,485 active piracy links of the SS Rajamouli film available — the film has been downloaded illegally 24.76 lakh times. The total revenue loss in these 17 months to the Telugu film industry is Rs 1,064 crore.
In fact, despite the producers of Baahubali procuring an order similar to what Thanu has done for Kabali, from a Hyderabad court, Baahubali's pirated version was available on 10 July 2015, the day the movie released. A gang with an international footprint was busted with its kingpin turning out to be a senior manager in a multinational software firm, operating out of California.
Piracy does not strike big movies alone. Even a comparatively smaller Tamil film like Iraivi that released on 3 June this year, was illegally downloaded the next day. "By the end of the month, the film had 1.1 lakh downloads and generated a revenue of Rs 23 lakh for the service providers," says the Tamil Nadu Film Producers' Council.
The police have not been able to crack down on these sites, even though 94 of them operate from India. Another 130 sites that survive only on piracy, operate from other countries.
That it is a booming business, despite the risk involved, is obvious. The cumulative value of all the piracy sites is worth $ 848 million. With a cumulative traffic of 5.78 million, many of these sites figure in the top 1,000 sites in the world, earning a daily cumulative ad revenue of Rs 94 lakh.
What is the way out? At present, producers do what Thanu has done — which is, approaching the court, and not very effective. "The court orders are title specific. The hosts, the platforms and the ISPs take their own time to respond," says C Rajkumar, member of the Telangana Intellectual Property Crime Unit.
If despite the Madras High Court order, pirated versions of Kabali flood the market, it will show the law of the land to be just a piece of paper. The need is for agencies working together with the film industry to block and bring down websites and hosting and streaming sites, almost immediately.
It has also been found that most pirate sites generate revenue through advertising rather than sale of illegal content. What is recommended is that like in the UK, steps be taken by the government to cut off the money supply to these rogue sites.
Though a Rajinikanth film is not merely a movie but an experience that an avid fan would ideally like to have in a theatre, the fact remains that many will be tempted to go for the grey market when tickets aren't available. Which is why the flourishing pirate industry would be salivating at the prospect of the huge number of hits it will generate and the ad revenue that would flood their website's coffers.
"Kabali vanduten ne sollu (Tell them, Kabali has returned)," goes a menacing dialogue by Rajinikanth in Kabali. Whether or not the superstar's threat will work we'll know only on 22 July, when the movie will release on more than 4,000 screens worldwide. If a parallel viewership on PCs, laptops and mobile phones is also generated, it will mean Kabali has lost the battle.