[Names have been changed for obvious reasons.]
January in Palika Bazaar. A day before the beginning of a major conference on Inequalities, Conflicts and Intellectual Property. I am with Brian Larkin, who is here for the conference, and we are looking for DVDs. Palika Bazaar, an ëundergroundí market in more senses than one, is of course, the best place in Delhi to buy DVDs cheap. It is also famous for the number of raids conducted by the police for pirated goods.
We are looking for a DVD of ëMain Hoon Naaí. The shopkeeper quotes an exorbitant rate. First he justifies this by invoking Layer 9 DVD technology. Then, Bhaisahab, yeh original ka copy hai – Original Copy.
We buy the oxymoronic ëoriginal copyí and move towards another shop. ëOriginal Copyí. ëGenuine Fakeí. (Asli Nakal. Khalis Farji.)
From Palika Bazaar suddenly to Petaling Street, from Delhi to Kuala Lumpur.
Ziauddin Sardar writes about Kuala Lumpur, invoking places, images and phrases familiar to those who live, work and shop in Delhi ñ
ìÖ And the fakes that one finds in KL, and the region in general, are not just any fakes ñ they are genuine fakes ÖGenuine imitation is the guarantee loudly proclaimed by the stallholders of Petaling Street, in the heart of KLís ChinatownÖ ëCome, look, genuine imitation, real fakes!í
ìÖThe world of fake goods is not limited to music and films. All manner of designer products ñfrom watches, sunglasses to clothes and shoes, as well as computer software, spare parts for cars and machinery ñ are available as real fakesÖî
- Ziauddin Sardar
How ‘genuine’ can a ‘fake’ be? Digital copies, as Sardar reminds us, do not suffer from ‘generation’ loss ñ a copy of a copy of a copy can have exactly the same attributes as the original, without any distortion, or loss. And yet, as we have seen already, and as we will see later in the piece, the aura of the ‘original’ is sought to be invoked even/especially by those very consciously selling pirate copies. A hierarchy of copies is created in ‘pirate’ discourse, invoking technology, geography and circulation. A Layer 9 DVD is superior to a normal DVD which is, of course, superior to a VCD. A Taiwanese copy is superior to a Malaysian, because it is less likely to be a ‘camera print’. A camera print is the lowest in the heirarchy of copies, as the act of copying, a distancing from the original, is so obvious. The ‘original copy’ is on top of the hierarchy, indistinguishable in its attributes and contents from legally circulating media. It is a linguistic paradox, indicating an economic ‘paradox’ ñ that of the means of production/circulation of ‘legal’ and ‘illegal’ media often being exactly the same…
We next head to ‘The Shop’.
‘The Shop’ is a small cramped shop, like all others in Palika. Like many other shops, it sells various kinds of electronic goods and media. Sony Playstations, X-Box games, earphones, VCD players, DVDs, Music CDs. All for prices well below the rate for ëlegalí proprietary media goods. Where it is different from other shops is in a counter towards the back. Where ‘The Shop’ is different is that instead of selling DVDs of standard Hindi films or the latest Hollywood releases, S. of ‘The Shop’ provides you with good quality DVDs of what is called ëworld cinemaí. When the Cinemaya festival did a retrospective on the Hong Kong film-maker Wong Kar Wai last year, ‘The Shop’ was flooded with customers wanting his films, and thrived. In the counter at the back of the shop, he displays the visiting cards of his regular customers. People formerly from film school, and now present in news and other electronic media dominate this display.
As I am a regular customer, instead of DVDs being brought down to us, we are allowed to climb up a small spiral staircase and enter the storage area. A small hot room, with barely room to stand or sit, surrounded by cardboard cartons, in which one is handed piles and piles of DVDs in soft cellophane covers to look through and choose. We look through an eclectic collection ñ Bergman, Truffaut, De Sica, Kurasawa, Makhmalbaf, Almodovar, BertolucciÖ the list is endless. Many of the DVD labels say, ëCriterion Collectioní. All in a small hot room in Delhiís Palika Bazaar, all selling for about two hundred rupees, or about five times cheaper than the rate at which youíd buy them legally, online or in a shop. Itís an impressive collection by any standards.
This is what I talk about in my paper, says Brian Larkin. Piracy creates its own informal archives. Which are archives nevertheless. Even if ëundergroundí.
Brian Larkin has done work on the pirate video circulation of Indian movies in Nigeria. Instead of looking at piracy through a legal/cultural framework, he chooses to see piracy in terms of the infrastructure it creates. For the movement of cultural goods to occur – a formal and informal infrastructure has to be established creating the material channels for these transnational cultural flows. Infrastructure in the sense of the material forms that bind and knit urban spaces; and allow the networks that link organisations and individuals into wider economic and social structures, facilitating mobility ñ the flow of commodities ñ whether waste, energy or information.
As Larkin argues, ëPiracyís negative characteristics are often commented on: its criminality, the erosion of property rights it entails, and its function as a pathology of information processing, parasitically derivative of legal media flows. As important as these issues are, the structural focus on legal issues tends to obscure the mediating nature of infrastructure itself.í
Piracy is not just destructive. It is also creative. It creates, among other things, possibilities.
The possibility of seeing a film ‘first day first show’ when affordable cinema halls are declining, often by being found illegal; and rules and regulations are being changed to accommodate the expensive, elite spaces of malls and multiplexes. The possibility of having a cheap, easily accessible archive of ëworld cinemaí in the heart of Delhiís Palika Bazaar. For those who watch films, and make films and want to learn the craft of film-making; the legality of ‘The Shop’ does not really matter.
As we see in the case of Sanjay Gupta, director of such films as ëKaanteyí and ëMusafirí. When Sanjay Gupta came to Delhi for the launch of Musafir, he made it a point to come to Palika Bazaar, to The Shop, where he then bought 200 pirate DVDs. S. promised him he wouldnít sell any pirated copies of his film. After all, many people from the Bombay film industry complain about losing revenue because of pirated DVDs.
Musafir itself is an interesting film. Like Guptaís earlier ëKaanteyí it is very heavily influenced by the films of the American film-maker, Quentin Tarantino. It also, obviously, borrows the storyline of such Hollywood films as U-Turn, and Heist. And there is, of course, the Rashomon effect, from Akira Kurasawaí film.
Will some of the 200 films that Mr. Gupta bought at Palika Bazaar be reflected in his next film? Perhaps.
Would he have been able to access those two hundred films so easily if it wasnít for the piracy of The Shop? Perhaps not.
Will watching these films help Sanjay Gupta make better films? We don’t know.
Is any of this legal? No.
Is any of this ëwrongí?
Brian Larkin also writes about Bandiri music in Nigeria. Music which takes its tunes from ësecularí Hindi film songs, and puts in words selected to sound close to the original Hindi, but which are now Hausa words of devotion to the Prophet Mohammed. So ëJumma Chumma De Deí itself derived from Mory Kanteís ìYeke Yekeî, now becomes ëZuma Zumar Begeí. Larkin quotes Tejaswini Ganti – All acts of copying are acts of translation. iii
The infrastructure of piracy facilitates cultural flows and the act(s) of translation ñ or copying. Can Bandiri music in Nigeria help us think through the questions of piracy and plagiarism in India? Perhaps.
Meanwhile, how do these DVDs get to The Shop in the first place?