This era belongs to cinema, and I do not mean just this year, or this decade, I am referring to the last century or so and the upcoming decades too. There have been renaissance periods in art and literature; this is the age of the movies, wherein art form which combines all the other art forms. As cinephiles, irrespective of our opinions and our tastes, we celebrate the art, the idea that cinema is a transcendental experience. And I am proud to be a cinephile, proud to say that movies have changed my life and how I perceive humanity. What I am not proud is that I have not owned up to my passion, I haven’t been able to show the respect that cinema needs and deserves.
As a lifelong bibliophile, I have always maintained a huge collection of books in my home. The idea of owning a book, feeling the pages run through my fingers even though I have already read them, it’s not one that I can describe; it has to be experienced. Unfortunately, I cannot say the same for movies. The fact that I do not own as many movies as I would like, is something I have always been ashamed of. When my non-Indian cinephile friends flaunt their personal movie collection, post photos of their Criterion DVDs, I feel both jealous and embarrassed; jealous since I too would love to have my own little personal collection of movies, and embarrassed because I feel I do not respect the art as much as I would like to. Other than a handful of DVDs, all I can flaunt for now is my cold, hard, ugly hard disk drive, which houses my hall of shame (aka my collection of illegal movies).
Now, I am not going to get all self-righteous and bash piracy, especially when I have watched movies illegally, but I do want ponder over the nature of piracy and why it is both a boon and a bane. Like most Indians, I don’t think I would have been a cinephile had it not been for piracy. I’d have stuck to mediocre commercial cinema and the occasional Oscar fare (when it gets a bit of buzz). Why? Because, despite being home to the largest film industry in the world and the single biggest cinema audience, India does not have a home video system. There used to be one, before the age of internet and memory sticks, when people rented cassettes, Video-CDs and DVDs and watched them at home. Even then, the options were limited to recently released movies, but at least there was a culture of video-on-demand. But with the advent of the century and aspirational India, the Internet and PCs came up and then you could watch whatever you want, without paying for it! For a generation of middle class Indians, this was like a gold-strike – we could finally watch what the world watched.
Now, a lot of this might be because of the quintessential Indian penchant for “jugaad” (hack), but today a lot of it is because of the lack of alternatives. I personally know of a lot of middle-class Indians who want to buy classic movies, but the best they’ll get from a local store is ‘Interstellar’ or ‘Titanic’. Importing from international sellers is an option, but add the multitude of Indian import duties and taxes to the seller’s price, it’d cost a fortune. So, a cinephile begins to look at other avenues. I personally was a university student when I began taking cinema seriously, and I didn’t have the means to buy my movies, so I began searching for peer-to-peer file sharing. It was the only way, and I took it. I still do, mostly because international cinema is never screened in India, and there are rarely any legal alternatives available. I wouldn’t have been able to see ‘Toni Erdmann’ or ‘Elle’ or any of my other favorite movies of 2016 for that matter, without having access to pirated copies. Even today, it’d be impossible to find legal copies of these movies. That’s the reality, and it is sad.