Innovative Technology Brings Quality Prints To Video Parlours, Curbs Piracy
Sharmila Ganesan-Ram TNN (THE TIMES OF INDIA; December 2, 2012)
Opposite a cigarette shop that spells wholesale as two words, a plate full of bread pakoras and dal vadas is collecting flies. Near it, a mustachioed man waits for you to pay Rs 20. He then points to two soiled brown blankets that serve as curtains. Inside is a dim room full of testosterone—undernourished men, who look like they may be waiting for a bus, are sprawling on marble benches while others are sitting alert as the Bhojpuri film Himmatwala illuminates their faces.
What’s unusual, however, is a group of housewives, some with kids on their laps, who are sitting on the floor in the front and empathising with the actress as she drags her paralysed husband to a temple in a cycle rickshaw. This “family crowd” is a fairly new profile of customers for Mahesh Chelladurai, owner of Mahesh Video Centre in a slum near Orlem Church in Malad. It has been trickling in ever since the frenzied shakes, black-outs, unfinished frames and other side-effects of piracy vanished from his screen.
Mahesh Video is among four such theatres in the city that screen movies the owner has legal rights for. These movies, mind you, include the latest Bhojpuri and South-dubbed films. That’s because these video parlours are part of the pilot project of United Mediaworks (UMW), which aims to reduce piracy by offering legal content at a low cost. “If somebody is denied access to something as basic as entertainment, they will naturally steal it,” says Ashish Bhandari, co-founder and MD of the firm that was formed to support the media and entertainment industry with technology-based products and services. Bhandari is referring to the 1000-odd video parlours in Mumbai’s slum areas, each with a seating capacity of 50 to 70, where piracy is rampant. “But if you make legal content affordable, there would be no piracy,” he adds.
This is precisely why, a while ago, employees of the firm, including Bhandari himself, decided to knock on the doors of both producers and video theatres with their inhouse technology called the DIGIBUTOR. The latter is an affordable digital cinema server that assists in the distribution of films at 512-bit encryption—the highest level of security. “This means that the content is protected to such an extent that it would take several years for anyone to hack into it or misuse it,” says Bhandari. Besides, it boasts a ‘watermarking’ technology, thanks to which a series of nearly-invisible numbers appear on the screen. These aid in locating movie pirates as they contain clues to the time and venue of copying. Another feature of this server helps in monitoring the number of shows played, negating misuse.
Once this affordable server is installed in video theatres, it would help curb losses to the industry from these centres, the firm tells distributors. “Once convinced, these distributors ask the film producer to share the content with us for processing on our format,” says COO Tushar Kulkarni, adding that Hindi film producers are tough to crack as they look down upon video theatres. But distributors of Bhojpuri and South-dubbed movies have been game. A formal agreement is then made with the producer for processing the film.
Initially, when the company approached video theatre owners, “they were apprehensive and even thought we were about to raid them”, recalls Bhandari, who explained to them in Hindi that they were there to help. “Some didn’t even know what piracy meant and they thought buying a pirated CD was legal,” he recalls.
All that the video theatre owners had to do was sign an agreement stating that they would not misuse the content, pay a sum of Rs 1.25 lakh for the device, installation and service and thereafter pay a sum of Rs 250 per show for a total of 28 shows. So far, the server has been installed in four theatres in Mumbai. They receive films within two weeks of their release. “We download two films a week in each video theater,” says Kulkarni. “The video owner needs to play a minimum 14 shows of each film in a week’s time.” The arrangement is fetching video theatres a turnover of Rs 700 to Rs 1000 per show and distributors a collection in the region of Rs 1000 daily from each video theatre.
“Gradually the paying capacity of the owners will increase,” says Bhandari, adding that some theatres, located in areas with a majority Tamil population, are even demanding regional content. The challenge, however, is to get as many distributors on board as possible to ensure the smooth supply of content. “Hindi film distributors are hard to convince, as they do not see much of a profit in this. But they should realise that they are making losses here,” says Bhandari. The firm got its first Hindi film, Le Gaya Saddam, this week, and is now planning to equip theatres with a library of movies.
The change is evident though. Earlier, the tiny white door at Amrut Video Theatre in Dahisar was hardly used on Fridays and Saturdays. “I used to go out for picnics on those days,” says theatre owner Munnabhai. Now even though he charges Rs 30 per ticket, people come in on weekends as well because “we get movies of the same quality as the talkies”. Munnabhai adds, however, that there is a need for firstday, first-show Hindi films. If that is assured, Mahesh Chelladurai might even spruce up his theatre. For now, he is happy he doesn’t have to “worry about raids anymore”.
POSTER BOYS Women, too, visit Mahesh Video Centre (above) in Malad, which is among the four video theatres in the city currently screening movies for which the owner has legal rights