Bombay, India — In the twisted, teeming streets of Old Delhi’s market slums, among the beggar children and bullock carts, a group of shopkeepers crowd into one of the cell like stalls. Inside, they are watching the latest movie on a rented video cassette recorder.

The scene at once explains why India’s film industry the largest in the world is in panic.

Videos are rapidly wooing away India’s movie going audience and biting into the beleaguered film industry’s business.

“This is a big threat at the moment. We are under a cloud,” said Man Mohan Desai, who has been dubbed the “Spielberg” of Bombay, India’s Hollywood.

Snatched by “pirates” before they can hit the theaters, videos of the latest movies are shown in private homes, illegal video parlors, even on buses as they rumble across the country.

“Someone buys a VCR and installs it in a barn in a village,’ said Amit Khanna, who is on the Board of Directors of the Indian Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

Movie videos often hit the streets within days of when a picture is released, said Khanna.

The film industry is feeling the crunch. Box office receipts have plunged 30 percent since 1981 and less than 16 percent of the films produced last year made any money.

The Indian Motion Picture Association has even organized raids on video parlors and shut them down. But the results, however, are short-lived.

Laws are strict, said film star turned politician Amitabh Bachchan, but “pirates are invariably out the next day with minimal bail.”

“You can’t get rid of (video piracy) it’s a Mafia like organization,” said Bachchan, India’s undisputed megastar. Video pirates break into labs, projection rooms, export only storage rooms, or even seize copies off delivery trucks.

Producer, director and actor Dev Anand, who is waiting for the September release of his new film said, I am hiding my print in my house industry’s only headache.

“Even if we were able to combat video piracy we’re still in a jam because there are not enough theaters,” said Khanna.

Only 11,000 movie houses serve India’s 750 million population. That’s seven seats for every 1,000 people. (The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization standard is 30 seats per thousand.)

Filmmakers say they must also struggle with exorbitant excise and entertainment taxes that can take up to 80 percent of a picture’s profit.

Article extracted from this publication >>  September 13, 1985