Piracy hurts B’wood profits

Trade with Pakistan would help cinema slump

NEW DELHI — Peace moves between India and Pakistan could help the ailing Bollywood film industry, which is losing millions of dollars to pirates, according to media analysts.

Indian films and music have been banned in Pakistan since 1954, and black marketers are making a killing selling the lively Hindi movies preferred by Pakistanis above their own rather austere homegrown pics.

This is a sensitive subject for the Pakistani government — “the sorest point after Kashmir,” according to Amit Khanna of media group Reliance Entertainment.

Should trade between the neighbors be legitimized, the Indian industry could recoup some of the annual losses to piracy, estimated at around 17 billion rupees ($35 million) annually.

“We are losing (millions) from the Pakistan market alone,” says analyst Taran Adarsh, editor of Trade Guide magazine.

“Pakistani viewers love Hindi cinema. Pirated versions are available on the date of release in India,” he added. “Bollywood films collect millions from abroad, it would be great to add Pakistan to the list.”

Others had even grander visions.

“Pakistanis are like Indians when it comes to movies,” said Bollywood producer-distributor Vashu Bhagnani. “Let peace be established and give us one year. We will become another Hollywood, as Pakistan is mad about our Hindi films and stars.”

He told reporters that film producers and musicians from both countries would gain immeasurably by distributing their films and music in both India and Pakistan.

“A quality movie like ‘Lagaan’ or ‘Devdas’ can generate revenues of at least 100 million rupees ($2.1 million) from Pakistan alone,” Bhagnani adds.

“With Pakistan as the new territory, a producer can hope to recover 40% of the film cost, which is huge given the current status of the industry. If allowed, I will be the first one to shoot in Pakistan.”

Trading of pirated copies of Indian films in Pakistan will fall “dramatically” if distribution of Indian movies is allowed there, says Indu Mirani, publisher of trade magazine Box Office.

“A territory like Karachi or Lahore is like Delhi or Uttar Pradesh or jointly like Bombay, which means they are worth 20 million-30 million rupees. Producers will get their due,” Mirani says.

The easing in tensions was triggered by Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee’s April 18 offer of a “hand of friendship” to Pakistan and an invitation to sit down to talks.

Political analysts believe a peace momentum driven by the United States is quickly building and that peace talks could begin before the end of the year.

The nuclear-capable neighbors have fought two of their three wars over the disputed state of Kashmir since 1947, and came to the brink of a fourth last year.

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