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Passing The Baton

After an illustrious three years with the Motion Picture Association (MPA) India office, Managing Director, Rajiv Dalal will hand over the baton to the able hands of Uday Singh. The new MD, who has headed both Sony Pictures India and PVR Pictures, will now represent the collective interests of the six major Hollywood studios in India while also working closely with the Indian film community. In conversation with Sagorika Dasgupta, both head honchos talk about film piracy, the journey of the MPA and pressing issues that need to be tackled

What’s it been like for the MPA so far?
Rajiv Dalal (RD): There have been obvious changes in the recent past. Over the last several months, we spent quite a lot of time looking for the next Managing Director. It is a unanimous decision to choose Uday Singh. It’s a home coming for him, returning to Hollywood after 14 years of being CEO at Sony and PVR. He is a respected personality at our studios and local studios alike and we have no doubt that he will add value to the organisation.

As the new MD of MPA, what areas will you look into? 
Uday Singh (US): Rajiv and his team have done a terrific job putting the MPA on the map. He said “let’s begin” and I say “let’s continue” and build on that momentum. Going forward our (Hollywood) studios will work more closely with Hindi studios on joint ventures and joint advocacy and other challenges that the industry faces. I worked with the Indian film industry for quite some time in the past, and have a fair understanding of the issues. Many of the legislative and content protection issues are the same from when I was at Sony. However, Rajiv and the MPA have made progress on some challenges like customs valuation, censor issues and forming an anti-piracy alliance called Alliance Against Copyright Theft (AACT). With time, technology is changing and there will be more challenges, both in content protection and in legislative issues and we have to have the support from the local industry to make a difference.

Are Indian producers at least aware of ways and means to protect their content?
RD: Well this is not the case with the entire Indian film industry. Certain producers are concerned about piracy only when they have a release on hand. Those particular producers seem to care about it only when they have a release and forget after the release. In this scenario, it is not possible to implement a consistent plan. However, the big studios like UTV, Reliance and Eros have recognised that a sustained campaign is necessary and which is why we together formed the AACT.
US: Anti-Piracy efforts cannot just be about street vendors it has to be about attacking the source. If you chase the rabbits, you run out of bullets when the deer comes along.  A lot of the time the focus is on street vendors and as a result, these vendors resurface and they move from one street to another.
An average film is camcorded and of the release. That is how fast it moves. Luckily, the government has come up with Section 79 but it has not served its purpose. It says ISP’s (Internet Service Provider) have to respond to the right holders within 36 hours. Since opening weekend business is so important, 36 hours will not change anything. It’s about time the entire industry realise this. We need to rally around and say “This is hurting us”. It is not MPA’s issue alone; it concerns Hollywood and Bollywood together. When so much is at stake piracy alone is impacting the business.

There have always been measures like anti-camcording. But with Internet piracy on the rise, how do you plan to tackle these problems? 
US: There is no legislation in place that allows us to take serious action against anti-camcording. We have begun our educational initiatives where we train cinema employees and the government is behind us. The proposed legislation has still not been implemented and once it does, then it becomes a lot easier to tackle the issue.
Section 79 is a problem as mentioned earlier, it does not really address the issue about Internet piracy, from the content providers’ point of view. If they respond and act in 36 hours, the damage is already done. The film is ripped and innumerable numbers of copies are made at a time when we rely heavily on the opening weekend.
RD: We (Hollywood studios) have been a very small part of the market, around 5 to 10 per cent. But while we continue to work together on the larger issue, things are changing. It will be a challenge to get the ISP’s onboard and work with the local industry collectively for a sustained action.
Public relations campaigns against piracy are now resonating. Imran Khan and Sonam Kapoor with their movie I Hate Luv Storys and Priyanka Chopra and Ranbir Kapoor with Anjaana Anjaani endorsed our AACT initiative last year. Today the industry seems to be getting involved. Recently, Salman Khan made statements on how he hates piracy. Shah Rukh Khan’s website was hacked over content protection issues.

Does it help to control piracy if producers start bringing their content to the DTH and Internet platforms?
US: That depends from movie to movie. Sometimes you have a film that rarely stays in the cinema hall long enough. So you may have various platforms and windows but the consumer will decide to watch the film any way he wants to. There are issues everywhere. Theatres spend on infrastructure and suddenly you have another window and they are, like, what’s going on? The idea is largely dependent on each company and the strategy of each film to maximise revenues. The problem I am going to highlight is that the damage has already been done. Trying to move up the revenue stream is a good idea as it ultimately makes more money but it does not stop the infringement problem.
RD: At the end of the day, we need to recognise that it is business and that shutting windows may not lead to the highest possible revenues. No matter what the window is, you can never compete with content available through illegal downloads. No matter what we do, the pirates can always drop prices by half.

Last year, you signed the LA-India treaty. Has it made a difference?
RD: By this treaty we agreed to develop and strengthen motion picture production, distribution, technology, content protection and commercial cooperation between the two filmmaking communities. This year, I have made multiple trips to Los Angeles discussed closely with California Film Commissioner Amy Lemisch to try and work closely to form the LA-India film council which we will announce towards the end of the year. This will encourage film production in both the countries and benefit the industry. Issues such as production challenges, work permits and shooting discounts have been part of our continuous discussion.

Have any producers approached you on this?
RD: Yes, many producers from both the industry have shown interest and we have been speaking to them on hosts of opportunities. For instance Cowboys & Indians and Sunny Deol’s Vijeta Films, have enquired about the ways to shoot in the respective countries.

Is the MPA looking into anything other than piracy?
US: Apart from anti-piracy initiatives that we are already doing closely with the local industry, issues like market access, taxation are our top priorities at the moment. We have been working closely with the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting the HRD ministry on the new Copyright Amendments. We realised that if we work closely with the local industry, our voice is louder and heard by the decision maker. When we started three years ago, it was a very different industry altogether. There was only one co-production between Hollywood-Bollywood and that was Saawariya. This was much before Disney, Warner Bros, Fox Studios, and Paramount Pictures came into the picture.  Studios were fragmented then. As co-production gained momentum, we integrated ourselves with the industry and are now advocating together on issues like GST and taxation. We testified the Copyright Amendments with Parliament and realised there are significant changes that will happen if some of the legislations are changed.

RD: Take, for instance, the debate over the Copyright Amendments, which have split the rights of producers. Producers in the west are not governed by these restrictions. The rights are also not internationally compliant. The reason for this change was to make them complaint with international standards. It is a very challenging piece of legislation.
That’s the discrepancy; the industry feels that all the tie-ups and linkages with Hollywood will go against the Indian film industry. In regards to the Copyright Amendment they fail to live upto the international treaty obligations.

US: Exactly! Since negotiating is an individual decision, many are not in favour of a law on this. If someone has not got his rights or royalties, he can always seek recourse. He can sue the company or have his finances audited. There is no need for a law in areas where it is impractical for the law to function.

What about the service tax issue? How are you tackling that? 
RD: There is still no clarity on the service tax issue. But we continue to seek clarity, especially for a few of our member companies that are structured differently. We have tried to highlight this problem. Most of our issues are pan-industry. We rise and fall with the industry. All of our studios have ventured into India, except Universal, they are very much involved with local Indian production for films and TV. But certain challenges are very unique. If you add up all the taxes, entertainment tax, VAT, Service tax, countervailing tax, you will find that India has the highest rate of taxation for the film industry. It makes no sense, especially for an industry that is so important for the culture of the country. It’s terrible that it is being taxed as a sin product like tobacco and alcohol.

US: The decisions taken will affect us too. But we are a voice of the industry and do our best to tackle various problems. The industry is providing a value addition of about $ 20.5 billion and creating almost 1.8 million jobs. It is an important industry and somewhere it has not got the attention that it should get.  We have talked to the Finance Ministry about this and they recognised that the film industry is caught between the State and the Central taxes. It’s a tough climb.

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