2/20/12

THE NEW GOLDEN AGE OF TAMIL CINEMA

                                                                                                                                                    
           Tamil cinema, long seen as the poorer southern cousin of Hindi cinema and known more or less by the histronics of its superstar(s), has been undergoing a revolutionary transformation in the last decade or so. Led by a barrage of new directors, actors and producers, Tamil cinema has managed to reinvent itself as, possibly the foremost film industry in the country. But are these changes enough to warrant the tag of a 'Golden Age'?

It is quite clear that Tamil cinema at the moment possesses possibly the best crop of actors in the country. These actors have actively and continuously sought out new, varied and often very risky roles, whether it be Vikram in Pithamagan, Suriya in Vaaranam Ayiram or Karthi in Paruthiveeran, which have not only won them accolades but also resulted in box office successes. There has also been a wave of new film makers such as Gautham Menon, Selvaraghavan and Ameer Sultan who have pushed the boundaries of conventional film making, often taking subjects that are raw, edgy and not exactly what one would call 'mainstream'. This is best exemplified by the critcally acclaimed noir Aaranya Kandaam (Jungle Chapter) released last year. The movie follows six different characters who are brought together by a packet of cocaine in the space of a day. Though such cinema always had a niche in the Tamil industry, with the likes of Mani Ratnam and K.Balachander, it is only in the last decade that it has become mainstream.
A poster from 6 National Award wining Aadukalam

Tamil cinema has also long been blessed with the best possible technicians, from cinematographers to sound mixers, and still boasts of the best possible technical crews in the country, with the likes of Santosh Sivan, P.C.Sriram, Thotta Tharani, and Resul Pookutty.

But, one of the greatest advances of the last decade was the growth of corporate production studios and the ability to get finances through banks and other institutions. The entry of corporates changed the face of the Tamil industry, with budgets skyrocketing. The average budget of a Tamil movie with an A-list star now routinely matches the average budget of a Hindi movie with an A-list star. Any big movie now is made with an average budget of around 40-45 crores. Sometimes the budgets go higher. Way higher. The 2010 release Rajinikanth starrer Endhiran remains India's most expensive movie with a budget of 162 crores (with marketing 200 crores). Last year, the Suriya starrer 7aum Arivu was made at a budget of 85 Crores.

Further, these big budgets have been made commercially viable with the growth of multiplexes and the ability to directly release movies outside India to meet the demands of the huge Tamil diaspora. Endhiran is touted as the highest grossing movie in India's history, breaching the 300 Crore barrier, and according to some sources getting as much as 375 crores. Whether these statements are true or not
what can't be denied is that Endhiran definitely features among the top three highest grossing Indian movies of all times.The top three grossers in Tamil cinema last year are Mankatha (150 Crores), 7aum Arivu (110 Crores) and Velayudham (90 crores). Of the top five grossers of all times in Indian cinema, two are Tamil movies, Endhiran (275-300 crores) and Dasavatharam (250 Crores).

Tamil cinema now also has the biggest world wide audience after Hindi cinema, with movies being routinely released in South Africa, Sri Lanka, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia and Japan. In fact Rajnikanth is a cultural icon in Japan, with his movies grossing more than Japanese releases.

And finally, it is possible to say that the Tamil audience has really matured in its outlook. This can be only explanation for why last year, the highest grossing movie Mankatha (The Game) did not have a 'hero' per se. The protagonist in the movie played by the Superstar, Ajith, is a scheming devious womanizing alcoholic corrupt cop who is planning on stealing 500 Crores and bumping off his accomplices in the process. Hardly what one would expect from a mainstream blockbuster with a mainstream actor. This could also be the reason why the audiences lapped up Shankar's sci-fi extravaganza, “Endhiran”, with Rajnikanth in as non-Rajnikanth a role as possible.

So is Tamil cinema in a new Golden Age? I would argue that it undoubtedly is. But what finally clinches this argument for me is the sheer range of movie being released or planned. Take the list of movies to be released in 2012 for instance. You have Yohan: Adhayayam Ondru (Yohan: Chapter One) a spy thriller; Karikalan, a historical epic; Kochadaiyaan, India's first motion capture movie, starring Rajnikanth; Kamal Hassan's Vishwaroopam, another spy thriller with a budget of 150 Crores; the Suriya starrer action thriller Maatran; the cop drama Thaandavam with Vikram; the gangster flick Vettai Manan; the tragic love story 3 (the Kolaveri movie) and Vada Chennai (North Chennai) by the director of the six-national award winning flick Aadukalam. And these are just a few of the movies being released. So my advice? The next time a Tamil movie is playing near you, grab a ticket, watch (Tamil movies outside Tamil Nadu are generally released with subtitles) and enjoy film making at its finest.

By Shashank Reddy

2/13/12

US AND THEM: THOUGHTS ON PIRACY & INDIA

Things to India either come very late or never at all. This goes equally for Hollywood Films, the news that our domain is under threat or the debate on piracy/ copyright. Though I am sure the whole world is optimism stricken about the matter. Angry but optimistic anyway. We in India are just optimistic. And this is the second issue which has the world in storm that we are commenting on. Even as you read this, things have changed for worse and another one of our favorite sites is no more.

Yet we console ourselves with saying that when one door closes another opens. Well this is what history of piracy has told us. If torrents stop working they say the next technology is just round the corner. And technology has kept ahead of the efforts to stop piracy. We aren’t exactly sure today what this new revolutionary technology looks like. Nobody really knows and nobody seems to be working on it. But such is its nature, circumstances change quickly and unimaginably. But does this mean we can take it for granted?
So we suggest that all of us should be prepared in the least for that day there will be no more downloading movies. Would it be that bad? For us at least we would rather pack our bags and go to Alaska and die the Christopher McCandless way. We think we should all be a bit realistic about the risk.

But it isn't over till The Pirate Bay is still running wild. Not just because it is “the biggest in the galaxy” (as they proclaim) but because it is “the galaxy's most resilient bittorrent site” (as they proclaim louder). TPB has also given us the only victory over Hollywood bullies and TPB is also from where new technology is being ushered.  

In 2006, optimism was quite understandable as TPB is back online in a space of a few hours after the raid on their offices. Now as 2012 has begun with the shutdown of Megaupload, FileServe and FileSonic, BTJunkie is the most recent casualty to the fear. And so the fear has reached torrent portals as well. We have been told again and again that file sharing through torrents is impossible to stop. But BTJunkie’s closure tells us how torrents are as vulnerable.

They may not stop p2p networks but they can prosecute the service providers that lead us to these files. Two things are come out, they don’t need you to have the files on your servers and they don’t need SOPA/PIPA too badly. Piracy is illegal anyway. Now if you can give us a few sites that will substitute BTJunkie in our lives, we can tell you they will shut shops voluntarily tomorrow and they are not answerable to us. And if they leave us only to remorse at their departures, how vulnerable does it make us?

And that leaves us with the Pirate Bay, the rare torrent portal with a voice. Feel no sympathy for that dirty rich Megaupload loon who undergoes trial. He is just stealing money. But the point that TPB drives to is that it isnt about money. Studio lobbying tells us that it is.

They want our money but the insensitivity that they show us is just awful. Nick Ross here builds a case for piracy just by using examples of this disregard (of film, television and music industry mainly) showing that sometimes it leaves us with no option. Isn’t it the same case here? The real threat is that the sphere of knowledge available to us will get smaller.  

In India especially, anti-copyright debate is hardly ever found into the catalog of policy issues. The movement is centered at specific countries- countries where legitimate Pirate Parties are formed and are pushing for debates. Boy, if this was anything like Sweden! These issues have not come to limelight because like Sweden we are not home to a major felon website like TPB. It has so far been good because Hollywood film industry has never cared much about us anyway. We don’t host sites and we don’t upload your copyrighted material (we don’t have access to your movies!) and we are so poor that we cannot afford to buy your movies.

This is changing. You have seen international works in the video store stands for a few years. And you are getting to watch ‘almost’ all the important Hollywood movies in your theatres. And now they have reasons to pressurise your Government to value international agreements. The basis of the anti- piracy strikedown is that the flimsy belief that every illegal copy of the movie competes with the legit DVD/ ticket that people would have definitely bought. The pro-piracy movement says that industries try to create unnatural scarcity for maximising their economic interest.

Now this half way house is SO enormously terrible that although the scarcity is going nowhere considering the one week that a good English movie will be in 10 theatres around. In the past year just how many times have we been disappointed by the distributors cancelling India release of a movie?
And now they might be eyeing your money. Of course lawsuits filed by a Hollywood paid lawyer in India prosecuting you might seem to be a far-fetched possibility at this moment. The point is that the property- their films will still remain quite scarce here. And a tough law against an action that deals with a scarce resource is insensible.

They tell you in their advertisements that Piracy affects the poor hard working souls who work at Hollywood. Would they lose employment? A ‘best boy’ working at a studio might but Johnny Depp will never. If the stars and executive producers might lose some of their greed instead they might save the jobs of best boys and lighting technician. Isnt it shameful then, that the MPAA begs in the name of these technicians?  You don’t have to lose their jobs. You will lose the excess profits.

It’s a remote cause but we have proved (to each other as usual) that file sharing will lead to more equitable distribution of wealth uniformly and India stands to gain economically. I am certain that in the half decade of its popularity file sharing has seminated a whole generation of future filmmakers with pronounced influences. As of today even if the file sharing online stops altogether I believe there are several thousand more youths in India between the ages of 16 and 26 that have already been persuaded to take up filmmaking. The critical understanding that people show in online forums could only have been enriched by easier access to movies. In fact the growing popularity of Hollywood movies and the money they make at the box office here is quite easily attributable to this generation of new film buffs. Demand pushes supply (if only studying economics was this interesting!)   

So if filesharing of copyrighted stuff stops eventually our generation will be known to give India back the golden age of films. Proud that we will be, for the sake of future generations and a prolonged period of good films, we must fight to provide them this opportunity. This is really our best argument in favour of piracy.
Of course it might just set the ball rolling because this new generation of filmmaker in India and hopefully at most places believes in filesharing and will allow a free consumption of their work, licensing them under open content license (or alternatives) as Mr. Lawrence Liang’s advice goes. 

We know some remarkable short filmmakers already doing so.We personally think if we do become filmmakers (exceptional possibility), we will have 1000 screens to show the movie at while we release it on torrents (you can pay us if you like) and maybe we won’t have swimming pools in our houses.

This remains our last hope.

Even if most people who download are not in touch with the political debates (RIP Pirate Bureau) on it, the most insightful portal available to us is the TPB blog and TorrentFreak.com.
One of the most thought provoking thing that TPB has ever spoken about is ‘the next step in copying’ that they think will be in physical form. They say-

“The benefit to society is huge. No more shipping huge amount of products around the world. No more shipping the broken products back. No more child labour. We'll be able to print food for hungry people. We'll be able to share not only a recipe, but the full meal. We'll be able to actually copy that floppy, if we needed one.”  

“We'll be able to print food for hungry people.” What?? A world without hungry people in sight? No because even if that happens the food industry will be very furious. How can they ever let this happen? Of course this debate is for a time in the future and we cannot weigh out the arguments today even if a hunger free world is thought to be an ideal but to reach a conclusive answer to that debate we must answer this one. How the debate on copyright goes will set precedence for that one. We might end up deciding that it is okay to starve people (intellectually of course) for protecting economic interests of a few or perhaps the concepts of private property will have to change. Spare a thought.   

The debate is here now, because every shut filesharing portal affects you. So everytime you say that we will find the next website you should be saying that this is enough! And we are going to do something. Do what? We don’t really know. But we know that they call an entire generation criminal and there will be a time when we will be the people making decisions on whether we want file sharing or not. We also know going the aimless ‘Anonymous’ mass hacking way is just ill-thought. We arent’t criminals. Meanwhile we are talking to a few people to see whether we can float a registered Pirate Party.    

We cannot claim all the ideas are our own (but many.)

We watched: Steal this Film Part 1, Steal this Film Part 2
Some more Kick-ass stuff courtesy TPB- http://thepiratebay.se/legal