Lack of information – There is a sheer paucity of ‘film related information’ which was printed even then in that era (1900-1930), because it was not considered as a break through and socially balancing form of entertainment by the intelligentsia of its time. More over, it was considered a morally degradable form of entertainment at that time.
Survivability : Most of the print institutions which issued advertisements or wrote articles in the early 1900’s to the 1930’s have shut down. Millions of articles printed back then, have not withstood the sands of time. A substantial amount of film advertisements were issued on disposable ‘paper pamphlets’, and since there is no centralized organization to store/tag these documents, they have been lost.
Priorities: Most importantly, the concept of ‘Preservation/Archiving’ was never and allocation of resources to that goal, has never been given the priority by either the governments of the past, or the present.
Lack of access –
Even with whatever information of that period that has survived, it continues to be difficult to access. Digital copies of ‘The Madras Mail’/’The Times of India’ can be accessed by students of specific universities ( Universities buy subscriptions, which translate into money). Freelance writers are denied access to these Digital Databases, on the grounds that they are not university students, irrespective of their interests in this space. The ‘access fee’ to such databases is also obscenely expensive. For e.g. Access to ‘THE TIMES OF INDIA’ archives can be availed for 25,000 dollars.
‘THE HINDU’, Madras is much better in this regard. If you sent a formal email to the HINDU Library, and mail them, the requirement, researchers can avail some sort of ‘restricted access’, through Digital Technology and OCR. The library Staff at the Hindu, run your ‘search words’ through their computers, and pull out results that appears, and provide them to you, in a separate computer. But OCR can miss many searches which can be found through manual search. For eg. The O.C.R at The Hindu Archives did not pick up two advertisements of the ‘General Pictures Corporation’ (1930) and M.U.A.C (1938 – Talkie Era) ads). Researchers if provided ‘direct access’, can manually scour through nook and corner of the paper, but direct access to the archives is currently denied. In the circumstances, this is a very useful bet for researchers.
Cost of access – The cost of access is exorbitantly expensive. (Hindu Archives licensing cost / TOI online database etc). There is no mass scale market for writers that can justify such huge access costs and therfore this can only lead to substandard forms of research, because the researchers wishes to carefully use the funds allocated to them. In case for freelance writers / writers who wish to publish under Creative Commons etc, the chances of obtaining access to such info is virtually null.
Naming terminology – Since Silent films were made in different languages, different names were used. Mapping the local name to the other language names and filtering them out is a very difficult task. For eg.
There is an article of 1920, discovered by this author, which speaks of ‘India Film company’ of Madras showing a film called ‘Keechak Badh’. From our available information, we can understand that this was Tamil cinema’s first film ‘Keechaka Vatham’, which was retitled (possibly in Bengali / Hindi /English) and screened in Calcutta a few years later.
Associated Films made a film called ‘Virgin Valley’, this can be easily translated into the popular colloquial story ‘Kanni Theevu’, which would likely have been the original Tamil name, for the film. It also made another film called ‘Untouchability’. Is this film ‘Nandhanaar’? We can’t ve sure, since there may have been some other colloquial social story based on a similar theme. More over, in the list provided by Theodore Baskaran in his book, Baskaran provided another English name for ‘Nandhanaar’ as (Nandanaar or elevation of the downtrodden). So how does one verify what the actual Tamil name of the film ‘Untouchability’ was?
No sources to cross verify information – Unlike info of the talkie era, which can be cross verified, it is difficult to cross verify any new information, if any which is found on silent era, the reason being that even primary sources themselves make mistakes. For.
Eg in 1921, the Hindu speaks of a film called ‘Mahabharatha’ which was banned in Madura, without mentioning the name of the film’s ‘Director’ or the ‘Studio/production company’ which made the film. However in reading the details of the article, discussions ( with Bhaskarendra Ramineni) and matching the dates, we realise that the film was not titled ‘Mahabharatha’, but the film ‘Bhaktha Vidur’ made by Kanji bhai rathod. (Or alternatively, ‘Bhaktha Vidur’ could have been renamed as ‘Mahabharatha’ when it was shown in Madura).
If we found an image from the Silent film era and someone claimed it was of a particular film, there is very little chance of cross verifying that information, because obtaining a secondary source article to match that primary article is indeed very difficult.
Roja Muthiah is truly a cultural temple of our times. It has seen and blessed countless historians, researchers, archivists, film activists and the public, in their quest for knowledge. But what makes Roja Muthiah library, different from other libraries? Unlike other static libraries which can be encountered over the state, Roja Muthiah is one of the few libraries, that have attempted to stay relevant to the times. In a ‘time-tight’ era, where every second is gold, Roja Muthiah offers an ‘online catalogue search’ of its entire book and periodical index, that can help Researchers and knowledge seekers, gain access to the content on offer, and plan their research schedules accordingly.
An ever helpful staff, help researchers and the public access the local catalogue, within the premises of the library. The reading rooms are also quite spacious, with well maintained water drinking facilities and clean toilets. There are also administrative rooms and Library stacks, where entry is restricted only to the staff. There are not many refreshments/eateries surrounding Roja Muthiah Library, but In the first floor of the library, is an open terrace lunch room, where researchers may also take their lunch. The catalogue of Roja Muthiah Library is clearly the big differentiator. No private library that i know off, has such a large database of books and periodicals, well indexed and searchable on computer, thereby saving time for both researchers and the staff who help bring out the books. The material is also very well preserved, and every bit of energy is spent to continue to preserve the quality of the books, for future users.
(RMRL Banner Link – https://jhavaibhavjha.wordpress.com/2014/08/01/roja-muthiah-library-to-celebrate-madras-week/)
Users are generally not allowed to take photographs within the premises, but to the best of my knowledge, there are no restrictions for users to read any book on the catalogue. There are also a few huge stacks of books of general interest, on display in the main hall, although the bulk of the materials, periodicals especially, are restricted to public use and are brought out by the staff, on request of the user. Another aspect of what is truly appreciable is that, Roja Muthiah library has also started digitizing some of the material in its collection with the help of a few generous donors. Priceless material like the ‘Cinema Ulagam’ series of the 30’s by the legendary P.S.Chettiar have been digitized and users can access them from the on-room digital computer. Also, other digitized material, include a few volumes of Director Sridhar’s Chitralaya magazine. The entire list of digitized magazines can be found out from RMRL.
Roja Muthiah Library has availed funds from British Library to scan and upload several rare magazines of its collection. These digitized books can be viewed online courtesy the British Library’s ‘Endangered Archives Program’ and these digitized periodicals are now accessible to the general public, from anywhere. The digitized magazines can be viewed in the designated ‘Roja Muthiah Research Library’ collection, in the British Library website. It is an effort that truly needs to be appreciated, because this effort allows researchers savings of ‘precious time to travel’, and can now access the material at any time, at a place of their choosing.
(Link to RMRL collection at British Endangered Archives – https://eap.bl.uk/project/EAP183)
I have worked in several archival institutions/libraries, including the National Film Archives of India, Pune, but few institutions are genuinely modern by nature. Either, they are very restrictive in sharing information, or the information is not properly catalogued/maintained/indexed and therefore becomes a mess, leading to misplaced material, and disappointment for the reader. In that sense, RMRL does a phenomenal job. Sure, there may be some shortcomings, but when seen holistically, and from a financial point of view especially, RMRL does a very fine job, indeed.
I had the opportunity to interact with Sundar Ganesan Sir at Roja Muthiah library yesterday and appreciated him wholeheartedly for the efforts of RMRL. A substantial portion of the research for my documentary film – ‘THE MISSING FILM REELS OF TAMIL CINEMA’, came from RMRL, and i had gone to thank him, for that. I appreciated his works, and he reciprocated, in kind. I expressed my desire that the scale of activities in the digital and internet space of RMRL needs to be raised, which led to two pertinent questions from him – If everything goes digital, what happens to the physical need of an institution?’ It is an important question, of which time may give the answer. But institutions that don’t choose to go digital, in the fear of losing the ‘physical presence’ of their readers, are going to decay. Virtualization and institutions like the ‘Internet Archive’ are clearly the future. We can already see this happening, and the conveniences that they bring like ‘Digital Interaction with other Note taking/Research Applications’, ‘speed of search’, ‘OCR’ etc, cannot be done by a physical library. Sure, Books have a fine smell and texture – all that is fine, but Digital does not decay or become brittle.
The other important aspect that Sundar Sir spoke about was funds. This is but a natural need, for such an organization. Surely, the cash rich film industry of Kollywood won’t help. They will brow beat and lavishly spend for over-hyped personalities with a cult following, but a genuine culture should be focussed more on the ‘society’ than the ‘individual’. So, i make a small appeal to film researchers, historians, students and all those who have benefitted from a genuinely important cultural organization like RMRL, to do their bit, and contribute what they can.
On signing off, i asked Sundar Sir, a question. ‘If books (in-copyright) are digitized and shown online, won’t there be a copyright problem?’, to which he replied ‘There won’t be a problem, if a rotational loaning mechanism is setup’. (Archive.org also offers a similar service for select titles). Clearly, Roja Muthiah is in sync with the times. Older institutions like the ‘National Film Archives of India’, need to learn a lot from RMRL. – Sugeeth Krishnamoorthy.
When Vishal fought his way to power, few years ago at the TFPC, few people expected him to generate serious results in the ‘antipiracy’ front, beyond seeking momentary PR for his upcoming films. But that might soon change.
Under his leadership, a special young AntiPiracy team was setup, which has been relentlessly pursuing Tamilrockers, and various other Piracy web domains. Hundreds of domains have been blocked ( with Pirate Websites forced to hop to the next domain) and revenue streams have been cut off. While tangible alternatives have been found at the moment for the Piracy websites, invariably, the noose is invariably tightening, and that might just be a game changer here – a serious one that could solve a problem of over 2 decades for the film and entertainment industry.
The consistent persistence and determination of the TFPC’s Antipiracy council has helped it earn a special reputation over the years. Last week, the TFPC announced that it had obtained ‘admin-deletion’ rights for a couple of cyber locker websites, giving them the power to delete content immediately. But the latest news of the council’s work being recognized by the Central Government creates an opportunity for them to directly ‘lobby’ for their interests and provide tools for instant ‘take-down’, by passing traditional take down steps, distributed across multiple online agencies could be a serious game changer, and if the TFPC has come so far, then it is very much possible that this will happen.
, if this happens, it will be a serious precedent, in a sense that rights groups are going to oppose the passing of take down rights ( which are very legitimate in this case, when seen from the case of Anti Piracy agencies and the film makers), but copyright holders have also been known to abuse take-down rights for perfectly legitimate cases, to cover up some of their own deficiencies.
But that power in the hands of an agency like the TFPC, could change the piracy eco system totally. It may not eradicate piracy totally, but the flagship Piracy Mascot ‘TamilRockers’ which up and until now has proved to be a serious pain the neck for the film makers, is known to rely only a centralized URL based system, could be gone for ever.
And that itself, would be a mega mega success for the film industry. If that happens, Producer Gnanavel Raja would have the last laugh.
Since yesterday, TFPC claims that around 6000 links have been removed, which itself is a tremendous effort. 👏👏👏
It also appears to be taking the help of Copyright media, which has been an independent antipiracy management organization for quite some time and also Rajinifans.com.
Harnessing the power of die hard fans/fan organizations so far is unique, and it is a good step ahead. (But apart from Rajini/Kamal, is something like this possible in today’s world, i wonder?)
The scale of this gargantuan effort is unthinkable for any other actor / movie, but sadly just searching 🔎 around for just 2 minutes with big ‘G’ baba and a working link is appearing.
If this scale of effort has been done for some other film, I guess it would have a substantial effort in removing illegal links, but for a film of Rajini’s scale, links will simply keep appearing. Some of yesterday’s links will be gone today, and today’s new links will be gone tomorrow, but they will keep coming.
Interestingly most of the new films are tying up with providers like Amazon prime and start appearing in less than a month, legally. Several films are broadcast on TV in less than 2 or 3 months, yet the Internet has created a situation where millions of users don’t want to pay for such services or wait so long. Beyond this, what can the film industry do?
As the world and millions of Super Star Rajini fans gear out to celebrate the release of his latest film Kaala, a small story is playing out in the background.
PR agency for Vishal, the Antipiracy cell of the TFPC proudly announced the instant capture of an individual who was illegally live streaming Kaala on Facebook. Following this, as usual, there have been a few publicity activities, built on Vishal’s efficiency in capturing pirates etc.
But a peep into the TR website still shows that Kaala is available, even before the first formal show release in India. So, what’s the point of all this, totally baffles me? Are people even bothered about the ‘odd’ individual who gets caught? Beyond a few URL seizures/blocks and the arrest of a few individuals has there been any meaningful progress to the initiative ve ? The film is out there, and that’s what should really matter, and not that the TFPC got an individual arrested. The day, the TFPC ensures that a new film release does not get uploaded online in any website /torrent for one full day atleast with ‘zero’ , is when it can hold its head high and say that Vishal and his team have truly succeeded. But is this even meaningfully possibly in a world where every one has recording devices and instant access to the Internet? Technology is several stacked against the film industry which for decades has enjoyed the benefits of the centralised top-down copyright industry. But now things are different.
All of these activities from the TFPC in my opinion are possibly geared to only raising the profile of its leader, Vishal.
With regard to the arrest, forget the ‘odd’ guy. There have been several such instances in the past. Do the public even remember all that? How long will media sustain this news? Few hours, 1-2 days at most. Has the TFPC addressed/audited the loopholes in its own legitimate chain, right from the point of censorship to the storage of films, to the point where they are transmitted through a DSP to theatres? The Vox article on Tamilrockers made several stark allegations, of moles and purposeful leaks from within the industry itself.
In a decentralised internet world, TR could very well be directly and indirectly, supported by millions of individuals. Mere URL blocking can never serve as a permanent solution to this problem. More importantly, with the emergence of small budgeted ‘web series’ and the thriving rise of social media as a preferred engagement medium of choice, the film industry as a whole needs to assess its own future, if it can even survive in traditional forms, going into the future.
TR and piracy may have a strong role in the industry’s downfall, a few decades from now, but legitimate entertainment forms will have a much larger role.
Venkatesh Kumar.G is a film maker, who primarily makes films, by focussing on ‘social’ issues. Apart from his feature films Unakkul Naan, Lightman, and Neelam, he has also made several short films. He is also involved in the creation and functioning of a new administrative body, which he believes will cater to the needs of small film makers, especially with regard to sorting out challenges with regard to the tedious Censor Certificate and the ‘Film Name Registration Processes’.
A victim of ‘pre-release’ piracy himself, a topic that we deal quite frequently on this blog – Venkatesh was kind enough to provide me with audio responses to several questions which i had put forward to him over email, questions that involved his own work and also to several issues surrounding the film industry. Thank you, Venkatesh Sir.
Additional Reading : https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kumar_G._Venkatesh
For the last month, the tiff between The Tamilnadu Film Producer’s Council and the Digital Signal Providers ( QUBE, UFO, PXD etc) seems to have hit a bottleneck, regarding the issue of ‘Virtual Service Fees’. No new films have released for quite a while, and theatre operators over the state are running re-runs of old films. In such a scenario, there has been some news on the Piracy front.
In the last 24 hours, news sources claim that police seem to have arrested a few operators who allegedly ran the infamous website. The sad part is that, the media which goes gung-ho over this news will not even bother to follow up, what happened to the people arrested today, in the days to come. Even last year, a similar such arrest was made, but there are hardly any reports that have followed up on what happened to the person who was arrested. So, we will never know for sure, if the person involved in that case was ‘innocent’, ‘accused’ or was a case of mistaken identity.
Tamilrockers continues to be up & running.
But what matters is this. The site ‘Tamil Rockers’ still continues to be up and running. It has been domain hopping for over a year, and continues to do so. ‘Blocking of URL domains’ is hardly seems to be an effective solution even for an hour, as the site keeps coming back again and again. The arrests may give some publicity and ‘news-focus’ for a couple of days, before the issue dies down again.
The real danger that the film industry faces is no longer the actual issue of debating whether the act of indulging in piracy is right or not, but rather, that if such events keep happening, that they no longer turn eye-balls or not. I would be surprised, if even popular film magazines which have been around, will provide major focus to this raid, in the coming week.