Essay the Video Boom and the Indian Cinema

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Videos, which may be described as cassettes of films or magne­tic tapes suitable for records of pictures and sounds that can be projected on a TV set, have lately become a craze, and the boom in video is undeniably posing a threat to the film industry. This is not a phenomenon confined to India but it extends to almost the entire world (except, of course, the backward countries) andhas widespread repercussions affecting the Government, the film industry, the exhi­bitors, the exporters and sellers of film rights here and abroad. In the 1970s, when the first warnings were sounded by a leading Indian film director that the craze for videos would cause considerable damage to the country’s film and theater industry the video recor­ders and quality TV sets were limited in number. Not many people were inclined to concede at the time that a major danger lay ahead for the film producers and the financiers. Since then, however, there has been a sharp increase in videos all round, and what was a minor danger has become a major challenge from the film industry’s view­point.

Curiously enough, the Government of India itself and certain official agencies facilitated the establishment of firms dealing with videos. Since the video industry was coming up fast, the National Film Development Corporation authorized a firm, known as Esquire Video Film Services (Private) Ltd., functioning in the Santa Cruz (Bombay) electronics export processing zone, as the agent to purchase all video rights. About the middle of the 1970s’the Esquire firms had set up a recording unit for converting Indian feature films into video cassettes. Initially it had a capacity of 20,000 cassettes a year; but now it has obtained a license to record six lakhs cassettes annually. Besides, two other companies have been officially allowed to sell video cassettes of Indian Sims in foreign countries. These two firms are Orson Video, a joint enterprise for preparing cassettes of Indian films in collaboration with a leading Japanese firm under the Sony brand name. The purpose of appointing official agencies for market­ing Indian film video cassettes in foreign countries seems to be two fold; to curb the piracy of Indian films through clandestinely produ­ced cassettes, and to enable Indians and other Asians living abroad to see the films produced in this country and thus helps encourage the indigenous film industry.

Sonic idea of the immense damage done to the Indian film industry arid to cinema owners by the video piracy can be had from the fact that while the sale of prints of full length Indian films in Britain two years ago declined by as much as 75 per cent (at times, even more), in the Gulf countries by about 60 per cent, and in the U, S. A.,, Canada and East Africa by about 35 percent.

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Since then the trend has continued and the situation seems irremediable because of the craze for videos, the low price at which film cassettes can now be had or hired and the convenience of view­ing popular Indian films in one’s home or in the home of a common friend sometimes special private shows are arranged of videos bought from the market or obtained from what are called ‘libraries’ of candles, and admission to such places of exhibition is on relatively cheap tickets.

Video experts explain that the process of piracy and of official production and sale of video cassettes is generally simple. Two machines are required for recording a picture and the sound track from a full film on a miniature cassette. When a pocket-size cassette print is ready, it is smuggled out easily because it is small in size and has no bulk. There are regular agents who smuggle cassettes of Indian films out of the country and there are regular customers in foreign lands. No wonder the video cassette industry is booming, even as the frequency and financial returns from regular shows of Indian films are declining. One reasons for the decline in the box-office returns is the inconvenience of going to cinemas (some-of them may be several miles away), the problem of advance booking and the high cost of cinema tickets. The cinemas are consequently thre­atened.

What is more, video cassettes are becoming cheaper month by month, About 50 lakh video sets are now being manufactured every year with Japan—the land of electronics, films and cameras-leading the rest of the world in this line. In fact, the saturation point has now been reached, and with a larger network of such shops some of them, feeling the strain of the tough competition, have had to close down.

The video piracy covers almost every film or series of films. It is not confined to reproduction of films on cassettes and their illegal export but also extends to exchange (which is illegal) and furtively giving out of video cassettes on hire. In certain cities in India a video cassette of a film can be had on a daily rent of Rs. 50 or so. The borrower can make much more by exhibiting the film at a place where there is a recorder and a TV.

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The quality of videos, however, presents a problem at times. For obvious reasons a video cassette comes out sharp and clear in both the visual impact and the sound when it is prepared directly from the original, following the grant of copyright. The privately and secretly recorded cassettes are unsatisfactory in quality. Even so, there is a growing market for video cassettes because of the craze to see films of all sorts and of any quality.

Another aspect of the video needs to be examined. While it is true that the Indian film industry in general has been hit by the video boom, Indian cinemas and theatres are still doing roaring, business, video or no video. The reason is the acute shortage of cinemas and theatres in the country.

In India, the Video Cassette Recorder (V.C.R.) boom was widely noticed about three years ago when it was found that these recorders had brought pornography to the privacy of one’s residence without a projector, a film and the ‘hush-hush’ which is of ten noticed when a blue film is shown. Cassette tapes are now being manufac­tured by over a score of industrial concerns; perhaps many more are doing so illegally. The postcard size, one-inch thick cassette comes in two forms, one visual and the second audio as well. To avoid mak­ing heavy payments (the price of a color video cassette in April 1981, was quoted at Rs. 3,000 for a 60 minute run and Rs. 5,000 for a 90 minute run) several video exchange clubs have been formed in the major cities; the loans being given on surety or on the assurance of a dependable intermediary.

What are the possible remedies against me piracy in video film? Strict guarding of the film prints so that reproduction on cassettes and their illegal exports can be checked would be one such measure; another can be to shorten the time gap between the release of a film within the country and its exhibition abroad. It is the time gap that is exploited by the smugglers and ‘pirates’ who get large audiences for their video cassettes because the original films are exhibited in the regular theatres after many weeks, sometimes months of completing their production.

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Licensing of films for video films and strict watch over the exercise of these licenses would also help. Since the licensed videos would be from the original film and carefully prepared with the latest reproduction techniques, their quality would be far better. To make effective all these measures and other steps designed to save the film industry from heavy losses, the co-operation of the various agencies, both official and non-official, involved in the processes would be necessary.

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