Adios(?), ‘Amma Theatre’!!! 

A couple of years ago, when Cheran’s Cinema2Home attempt was in the limelight, the state Government of Tamilnadu announced another feather to its cap of already populist and successful schemes like Amma canteen, Amma water bottles, Amma cement etc. This was supposed to be the ‘Amma Theatre‘.

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Image Source – http://www.thenewsminute.com/article/mind-boggling-list-every-amma-product-and-service-launched-last-5-years-38816

The plan was to build a modern theatre with all the latest facilities and amenities, but the cost of a movie ticket wouldbe only around Rs.25. The remaining amount would logically be subsidised by the government. It addressed one of the raging issues of its time and one of the major reasons for piracy – ‘Huge entry price points for theatres’. Additionally, implementation of this program would also help immensely benefit ‘propaganda’ values for the government and also further cement the legacy of the now Late, Chief Minister, Miss. J.Jayalalitha.

Reports later surfaced that the NFDC was called in as consultants to help the Tamilnadu state Government, implement this project.  (The NFDC has experience providing budgets for low cost movies, and that too, thanks to Central government support, but what expertise, NFDC has with regard to building and running a low cost subsidised theatre chain baffles me!!!).

Three years later, the project seems to have gone into limbo. The stakes and priorities change immensely now, given that Madam Jayalalitha is now no longer there ( and therefore, ‘propaganda’ values diminish !!!), or even the fact that there is already enough political confusion and instability in the government.

The public demand things, with higher priority now and even if a few theatre complexes were established and budgets incorporated subsidies, it makes little sense with the affordability and accessibility that the Internet has provided. More over, building a few ‘theatres’, with so much investment could hardly have a fraction of the ‘socialistic’ impacts that subsidised ‘Food’, ‘water’ or ‘medicines’ may have.

It is unlikely in the current circumstances that the ‘Amma Theatres’ concept will be revived. Maybe like the ‘Cinema2Home’ project, its purpose of serving ‘news feeds and flash news’ had come to an end, before the project(s) even began.

 

The Dilemma of Private Collectors.. 

People tend to preserve things that they ‘treasure’ personally or which they believe, ‘will have the potential to return a windfall in the future’. From a social perspective, institutions like ‘Libraries’ and ‘Research Centres’ preserved material in the interests of the society, all though some ‘private ones’ were driven by ‘motives of profit’ as well.

But within this framework lay a sort of power – ‘the power to hold information.’ It enhanced the value of the ‘individual’ or the ‘organisation’ immensely. It meant that ‘individuals’ desiring in accessing this information were at the behest of the former. The ‘former’ could cut off ‘access to information’ at any time.

Since the material was in physical form, either in paper – ‘magazines’, ‘newspaper clippings’, ‘books’ ‘pamphlets’; film – ’35mm’, ’16mm’, ‘8mm’, ‘VHS Tapes’ or ‘microfilm formats’, the ownership lay in entirety with the current possesioner of the material.

Since the ‘individual’ would in all respect, have paid both ‘access and maintenance costs’ ( or obtained donor copies from someone else), they held absolute rights to the material. The holding of such rare material was almost like ‘access to private property’, and the owner could prevent access to any ‘trespasser’ at any point in time.

Another factor that needs to be mentioned in this is that the ‘borrower’ who wished to access such materials in this case, in most cases, did not have the infrastructure for ‘duplication’ or to ‘store and preserve material even if duplicated’ in most cases, especially if it dealt with film material.

With the advent of digital technology however, the power of ‘reproduction of any material in any form’ and its ‘subsequent storage’ of such digitized content has passed to anyone, almost like the air, that we breathe. This has brought a sea change in the attitude of some ‘individuals’ and ‘organisations’.

The fear that their content may be reproduced in digital form and taken out into the world, fears them.If that happened, no longer would they have absolute ownership of the material, in real world terms.

Some of these owners, have rare material, whose copyright have long expired. An attempt at monetization in any form today, will invariably lead to duplication. ( I refrain from using the word ‘piracy’, unless the owner is the ‘copyright holder’ of the ‘material in posession’). Should such content be ‘duplicated’ and ‘disseminated’ during the process of monetization, The owner can do nothing . So, they tighten ‘access’ even further.

It is agreed that many of them have invested heavily in acquiring such ‘rare’ priceless material, but with the ecosystem having changed, there is nothing that can be done to further, their cause. Either, they continue to ‘hoard’ material, without it being of benefit to no one, or they take the better stance in common sense, of allowing ‘desiring individuals’ access to information, for the benefit of enhancing the societies common knowledge.
Some instances where I have encountered such behavioral patterns, i cite below :-

( In the third case, I must humbly admit that the grudge in this case is extremely trivial and was mentioned to just complete a blog post. Compared to the small inconvenience of lack of reproduction, the larger importance is ‘Right of Access’. The immense benefits that the institution has given me through direct access to material for Reference. Thank you very much. )

  1. D.V. Balakrishnan, fan of M.K.ThyagarajaBhagavathar (and father of Suresh Balakrishnan, author of a biography on M.K.T), a person whom I have interviewed extensively tells me of a popular cinema celebrity of having a copy of ‘Rajamukthi’.  He tells me that the celebrity’s father himself has confirmed this information to D.V.Balakrishnan. There is no known film company of ‘Rajamukthi’ which is believed to have survived or any print known to be in circulation. ( Thanks to D.V.balakrishnan, i was able to trace a family in Madurai, which held one of the rare copies of this film, but which eventually decayed and went into garbage. It is a sad story indeed.)
  2. While Speaking with Shivangini Tandon, a researcher who is working on Director Jyotish Sinha, she tells me of a person who she had met in Sri Lanka, who has copies of the Sri Lanka film ‘Kapati Arakshakaya’ made by K.Subhramanyam ( Co directed by Jyotish Sinha), but is hesitant in letting out prints. The same person has uploaded a couples of the movie on YouTube.
  3. This is my own experience that I have of a ‘public Research centre, owned by private backing’. Without doubt, it does have the best facilities and is easily accessible for a layman without any hassles. The support staff are also very helpful in bringing out any content for Reference. Thank God! But when it comes to ‘reproduction’, they take a back seat. Some of the old magazines are breaking ( turned brittle) and filled with Termite holes. I asked them a xerox copy of some pictures from one such magazine, which they refused me. Fair enough.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             But can content not be shared without causing further physical damage, if one resorted to Digital methods? It most definitely can, if one possessed the right attitude.  Another instance of ‘reproduction’ turned down was when I requested for xerox of a couple of pictures of a magazine printed two years ago, was turned down. I was refused denial plainly and I was told that if I desired it ( since I was desperate!!!), i would have to Contact the publisher directly 😦 ( This was in stark contrast to my experience at the NFAI. The library staff there are way ‘too sweet’. Sounds cheesy maybe ,but no other adjectives fit them better!!!).

Cheran’s new film – The end of C2H? 

Reports are emerging online that Director Cheran’s next venture could be with Actor Vijay SethupathiThese are still early days and the actor already has enough on his plate. More over it appears that the information prima-facie has been obtained from secondary sources and that there has been no official confirmation, to that effect. 

If it is announced in a few days hopefully, The movie is more important from Cheran’s perspective as he gets back to what he does best – make good movies. But it isn’t going to be easy by any means. He will need to bury some ghosts of the past. 

Cheran came to almost be single handedly associated with the C2H project, a few years ago that planned a parallel distribution network, but little came of it, because the traditional players opposed it ‘tooth and nail’ and even the potential revenue opportunities that C2H was hoping may not have been largely significant enough (DVD sales were already sinking when the C2H was announced and no one has yet cracked the ‘Online Internet market for Traditional Top-down films’) to convince them to jump ship, if things came down to an’ either-or’ situation. 

Seeing no way out, Cheran bit the bullet himself and released his first film’ JK Ennum Nanbanin Vazhkai ‘on DVD using the C2H branding. The film did not exactly prove to be a trendsetter for this new kind of market. A few months later, C2H released another film’YettiThikkum Madha Yaanai’. That was that. No more films came out from the C2H stable. The internet model plans all went up in smoke. Slowly news coverage of the organization reduced. 
The most recent news about the organization was hardly positive. A case was filed against Cheran owing to a cheque bounce case by a C2H distributor. 

With C2H’s official twitter account not having been updated for over two years now, one can take a safe bet and say it is all over. It’s website too has not been working for quite some time now. 

Even if cheran finishes this movie with Vijay Sethupathi successfully, he will have to go back to the traditional distribution mediums only. 

The C2H model may have failed. But let us give this brave man some credit. 

Personally, I never believed in the C2H model. It had lot of conflicting objectives, which needed deeper thought and analysis. Even if these issues were addressed, a model like C2H would not have worked in a country like India for ‘Top Down cinema’. The production costs of this kind of cinema is so huge that there is no way that C2H would have recouped the costs involved. The obvious logic in theory was that C2H would work in parallel to the traditional Distribution players. But unlike Kamalhaasan’s 1000 Rs scheme for Viswaroopam, which would have created a unique market for the new scheme , and not touched the ‘Pirate’ market because of the cost factor, C2H would not have that advantage. 

The DVDs of C2H films would have been priced between 5o.or 100 Rupees which puts it invariably in the danger zone for pirates to ‘exploit’ – Same content at lower price!!! 

More over the low cost involved meant that this model ( low to medium budget films which C2H was planning) would have only fragmented the users between the traditional players, C2H and ‘piracy’. 

C2H as an intermediary may have benefitted possibly if it attained margins of scale, but it is extremely unlikely that the net revenues to the producer would have increased with C2H model, because of the additional fragmentation. 

But all of this analysis is simply redundant, because the C2H project never even took off. Never the less, Cheran attempted to do something which no one had done before. He may have failed in his attempt, but along with his films, the legacy of C2H will proudly remain when one talks of ‘Bharathi Kannamma’, ‘DesiyaGeetham’or any of his other master pieces. 

P. S – Several attempts were made by this author to contact director Cheran to discuss some of my views on the C2H project. Sadly, there has been no response until date. 

Do we even really need a Censor Board, anymore? 

The Censor Board is again in the news today, for failing to certify a film, ‘Lipstick Under my Barkha’, which its boss Pankaj Nihalani, believes cannot be fit in its three pre-defined categories of certification- ‘U’, ‘U/A’ and ‘A’. The film, therefore remains uncertified. Not too long ago, a similar issue erupted, when a film maker had to eventually go to court, to over ride, several cuts recommended by the Censor Board.

When the Decks were all set for the film’s release, a shocking thing happened. The film suffered an attack of ‘pre-release piracy’. There were even suspicions raised about the print being a ‘For Censor Board’ copy. There have been similar reports, suspicions and allegations surrounding for South Indian films like ‘Premam’ and ‘Papanasam’ as well, but this post deals with the relevance of the functions of the Censor Board, in a modern Digital ubiquitiously internet accessible world.

The origins of the Censor Board in India can be traced to times of Pre-Independence. At that time, India was divided into several presidencies like The Nizam, Travancore Dynasties, Madras Presidency, Bengal Presidency and so on. Each of these independent presidencies had their own independent admistrative agencies, typically, under the blessings of the British.

So, if a Film made at that time, had to be shown over the country, it meant that it had to be certified multiple times. This presented a peculiar problem. A film could be certified for viewing in one presidency, yet could be deemed ‘unfit’ in another.

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A 1938 Censor Board certificate of the Telugu Film – ‘Malla Pilla’ issued by the Madras Board of Censors. The Film was directed by G.Ramabhramam. 

In the year 1949, Independent India setup up a ‘film enquiry committee’ under the auspices of Bombay’s then Mayor, S.K. Patil. The commitee which in its member board consisted of ace Film Makers like B.N.Sircar and V.Shantaram. It also consisted of representatives of the I.C.S ( The body under Information and Broadcasting Wing). The group toured the country and met various stake holders in the country and took their feedback and presented a report titled ‘Report of the Film Enquiry Committee 1951’.

Some of the committee’s recommendations which were eventually implemented were :

  1. Setting up of a body to preserve film Heritage. This body later became the NFAI.
  2. Setting up of a training institute for Actors and technicians aspiring to be part of the Film industry. This body was what became FTII, Pune. ( There was an independent Training institute in Madras which was set up by the South Indian Film Chamber of Commerce. Some of the successful graduates of this institute were Actor Rajinikanth and Chiranjeevi).
  3. Setting up of the first local ‘Raw film’ research and Manufacturing Factory in Ooty. Prior to this Raw films had to be imported and were very expensive.
  4. Having a unified Censor Board, across the nation.

ratthakaneer-1976

A Recertified Censor Board Certificate for the Film ‘Ratha Kaneer’ issued by the CBFC.

The validity of the Censor Board certificate was originally meant for only 5 years. It was later extended to 10 years. This means, that every 10 years, a film maker would have to get his film recertified, a totally absurd procedure that has thankfully been done away with.

Censor Certificates of the films Kutty(2001 Janaki Viswanathan) and Thotaal Thodarum (2014 Cable Shankar). The Certificates provide more details about the Censorship process and have done away with the expiry-period of the certificate.

Although Newer forms of Technology for information like the ‘Radio’ and “Television’ evolved, the Censor Board continued to hold its relevance. Not only did Cinema reign supreme in its mass appeal in the ‘Entertainment’ sector, but its other competitors had to follow a ‘code of conduct’, for disseminating information. A channel which wished to broadcast ‘Video’ ( Television) or ‘Audio’ ( Radio) had to get a license in order to obtain ‘radio spectrum’ to transmit their signals. This meant that they were bound by ‘rules’, and they had to be responsible for the infomration which they broadcasted. So, an organization like the Censor Board continued to have ‘functional sense’, until till about a decade ago.

Up and until this time, people were still used to a traditional ‘uni directional’ flow of information. But the growth of the internet brought focus on the bi-directional aspect of the Internet. Not only could users now demand content, at a time of their choosing, but now they could be a part of the system. They could now create content but also share them to the world (upload), something that had not been a part of mankind.

It is in today’s new digital landscape that the ‘function’ of the censor board needs to be addressed. What is the role of the ‘Censor Board’? Every minute, 300 hours of video is uploaded on YouTube, alone. If one even conservatively assumes that this sums up 50% of global uploads ( Commercial Digital content, new user content created, remixed , modified, and shared), then we roughly have about tonnes of data, represented in 600 hours of video, as a function of ‘bandwidth ‘and ‘storage’.

So, there is no way that we can have a body that can physically monitor so much content, even if it had the accessibility. And this rate of content generation only continues to grow. The second aspect is that this content is constantly shared, modified and re-shared. Each of the users on the Internet today :- receive, consume and share. In this flood of ‘rapid information exchange’, in most cases, the ‘creator’ and the ‘last mile user’ analogy has changed totally.


The second aspect is that ‘any form of content’ is so easy to access. At a click of a button, pornography is accessible. Pirated and Infringing content is accessible. Most websites don’t even use the mock ‘Click here to Enter if you are above 18, else leave’. It is just pointless.

So, now we come to the scenario, where a content creator who wishes to disseminate his information under the traditional model, has to subject his rights of ‘freedom of expression’ to a group of individuals who may have a different moral code of conduct, and may choose to apply the scissors, whereas, disseminating in the parallel much larger internet world, need not have to go through the knife. The same aspects come from the viewers point of view, as well. Barring the ‘monetary’ aspects, there seems to be a huge mismatch.

The second aspect of the question, is, what are the powers of a Censor Board in ‘reality’? There have been umpteen instances, when a film, which has been ‘Certified for Public Viewing’ has been held up allegedly by ‘miscreants’ or by those who have used the ‘publicity’ for their own benefits. The Censor Board has been able to do nothing, in these cases.

The Censor Board continues to play an important role, but its role has been severely limited by technological advances, and at times, rendering it redundant, when seen holistically from a view point of society. May be, it is time, that an entire upheaval of the vintage body happens, in connection with the times.

 

 

 

Gautham.V.Menon and ‘Stale’ Bread

How long does ‘novel’ remain ‘novel’? What does it take for a ‘creator’ to continue to keep revising himself, without getting ‘repetitive’ to his fans or viewers of his ‘creations’?  Does a creator succumb to ‘commercial’ pressures in a quest for survival, and flog his own ‘dead horses’ for survival? (or) or Does one choose to continue to innovate and experiment, like their own ‘fresher’ days, even at the cost of going ‘bust’?

Gautham Menon continues to be one of the fore-bearers of ‘stylish’ film making in Tamilnadu, today. Not many can show a ‘heroine’as beautiful, as the camera under his direction does. Starting with a blaze, his romantic film ‘Minnale’ was a blockbuster. Menon continued to make successful films ‘there-after’ and has been around for over a ‘decade and a half’, now.

gautam-menon-1-050213130205110859130315184631

(Image Source – https://alchetron.com/Gautham-Menon-249181-W)

However, recently, the ‘quality aspects’ in his films have begun to suffer. Even his much vaunted ‘Romance’ scenes which are very typical of contemporary ‘urban conversations’ between young urban couples, are beginning to get stale.

There are several instances in which Film Directors, who appeared very promising and even had their own signature styles of film making, have rather repeatedly over-used them to the point of boredom. At a point-in-time, the audience’s interests change, leaving them lost in the woods. Take Director Rajesh ( Boss Engira Baskaran) or Director Charan ( Director of the movie ‘Gemini’ which ran for a year) for example.

‘Nee Thaane En PonVasantham’ was an unbearable experience. I was longing for the next song, to over come the boring scenes, in the film. ‘Yennai Arindhal’ was a film made for Ajith fans. Again, nothing really worthy there too, for the average film goer. I could even let that pass.

But, I wish to seriously know what GVM was thinking when he was making ‘Acham Enbadhu Madamayada’. The Romance scenes were ‘stale’ outright, the scenes, so much reminiscent of ‘Vinnai Thaandi Varuvaya’, and suddenly, you get an action hero and a film with darkness, and bashing up all the baddies and Yawn. The relationship between the ‘hero and his bike’ which was being built up to a ‘parallel motif’ in the first half and then suddenly, this was never used, susbequently, post the accident. Why?

Well, i suppose that at the end, the much publicised tiff between GVM and Simbu meant that the latter portions of the script could not be shot, so Simbu had to come and tell what would have been a 20-25 minute Visual Narrative, in the form of an extended dialogue? How does it matter for a ‘paying’ film goer, about the issues between you as a ‘film maker’ and your ‘lead actor’? You simply, just let them down.

And now.. this piece of garbage is coming up, as well. As it is, off late, the commercial ventures by a certain National Award Winning ‘Over Rated’ actor have stunk of garbage. And off course, Plaigiarised Inspired ‘Award Winning’ films like Deiva-Thirumagal.

And suddenly, i realised that ‘Wasn’t GVM also making a film with ‘Dhanush’?’ What happens to that one, then?

Gautham Menon is one of the few directors,  for whom, i take the trouble, of visiting the cinemas to watch his films. To the best of my knowledge, I have seen almost all of his films, in theatres, itself. ( Except ‘Nadunisi naaigal’, which I have not yet seen). But, I am beginning to get the feeling, that it may not be worth anymore.

Getting used to the HD eye!!! 

When VCDs started making their appearance in the late 90s into our world, few people actually realised the humongous transition they were going to bring in our lives, not just in terms of a new ‘content viewing technology’, but the actual transition from ‘Analog to Digital bound in a physical transport container’. 

The Vcd was based on the Mpeg1 video compression standard, which was not only poor in ‘compression’ but poor in ‘quality’ as well. 

While the Technology could support larger frame resolutions, the problem of transport persisted. This meant that if an Indian movie of about 3 hours would have to packed in a container with a maximum size of 700MB.

Early Vcd format films were packed into 3 discs, while later, with the excision of a few scenes could be fit into 2 Discs. 

Most of the films were encoded in a frame resolution of 288p ( sometimes even 240p, 320×240) which was good enough for the standards of its time. 

Then the DVD appeared which raised frame resolutions to either 576p ( 720×576), a huge jump in the quality aspect. Then the Blue Ray Standard appeared which supported upto 1080p (1920×1080), but by then external hard disks and wireless standards were in vogue, which rendered going back to Discs extremely inconvenient. 

From Full HD 1080p, came 4k with 8k slowly knocking on our door. Improved Internet speeds at more affordable costs has even made ‘storage’ in whatever form an unnecessary pain. So much has changed since the time we used to take periodical backups in CDs and DVDs. 

Today if one was to take a look at some of the content stored in our old VCDs lying in a corner, one would be shocked at the abysmal quality that was served to us, a little more than a decade ago. 

Yes we have now become accustomed to the HD eye. One day in the future, even the pristine Full HD that we consume may pale in quality compared to the lovely experiences that we have today. 

Gnanavel Raja takes on Tamil Rockers.. 

Last week, one witnessed an emotional outburst of Producer Gnanavel Raja, during a promotion event for the Vijay Antony Starrer ‘ Yeman’. Understandably, for all the pain that Raja has gone through as a producer, being able to do nothing, he spewed all venom against ‘Tamil Rockers’, an alleged website that promotes Online Media Piracy of Tamil films.

Although Tamil Rockers is just one of the possible hundreds of ‘strength-in-depth’ Tamil based Piracy websites, TamilRockers has nearly became the face of ‘Tamil Piracy’. The reason for this has to be strongly attributed to its presence on Social Media, typically, something that has become a way of our lives – The Meme culture.

It is unknown who makes these memes supporting Tamil Rockers. It could be someone associated within the website network itself or it could be a fan or a supporter, but with the power of social media, TR has obtained immense popularity over atleast the last 6 months.

This has immensely helped the site differentiate itself from its potential competitors, and has nearly almost grown to become the face of ‘Tamil Piracy’, as much as ‘The Pirate Bay’ represented the ‘Adhi’ and ‘Andham’ of Piracy at its peak.

The moot problem in my opinion in this case is while TR like any other Piracy network causes monetary losses to the Cinema Industry, it additionally with its memes coming out on Social media ( which the public mock for a minute and forget) takes a dig at the near impotency of the Film Industry, that they can do nothing about it.

So, now Gnanavel Raja has decided to jump into the administrative bandwagon to see if he can control this horse. He hopes to pin down ‘TR’ in six months and stream the live event of sending the folks behind ‘TR’ to jail. The irony however is that, even if such an event happened, neither would it be a ‘publicity stunt’ or a ‘deterrant’. How many of the public even remember the raids that Actors ‘Parthiban’ and Vishal did on Pirated DVDs? How many people remember Poor Premji coming out and cribbing against Pirates, when Biriyani’s Audio was pre-release-pirated? I dont think there would be many.

Even if we assume that ‘TR’ is shut down for good, will it affect the Public? I don’t think so. Names like ‘MegaUpload’, ‘KAT’ and “TPB’ were once names ‘allegedly’associated with Piracy. They are no longer at their prime. Infact, some of the leaders in this field do not exist. Their assets have been seized, their Servers are down and they no longer are able to serve feeds, as they once used to. Does this make a difference on the users, who once used these websites? No. Those who consumed such content have simply moved on. Their attitude towards both the ‘copyright holder’ and the ‘person or website serving such content’ is just ‘indifference’.


A very interesting response from the end users perspective, taken from a Social Media post which came into my FB feed. A lot of these points have been discussed at various places earlier, like Cheran’s C2H business model for example. 

Cinema which has one of the most distinctive features of being an early’ art’ and ‘cultural’ medium that brought various classes of people together seems to slowly move toward in a direction not much desirable,  from the perspective of the generic film watching public. 
Newer Technologies for communication keep coming. Pirates usually rely on the strength of ‘technology’ while the Anti-Piracy group relies on ‘legal means’.  Each time, the mirage of having caught up appears, the gap distances itself in the next round.