Pankaj Tripathi plays a taxi driver-cum-fixer in 'Mimi'.
In the second-half of July 2021, the teams of Maddock Films, Jio Studios and Netflix found themselves in a waking nightmare. Their labour of love, Mimi, had been leaked online and was finding its way to cellphones everywhere.
While online piracy has been a bane of the film industry for decades, what made the case of Mimi peculiar was the fact that this happened even before the film was released officially.
The team called for an emergency meeting, and instead of the planned OTT release on July 30, the Laxman Utekar surrogacy drama arrived much earlier on July 26, 2021.
Also read: Pankaj Tripathi: "You will see a new Pankaj Tripathi in 'Mimi’"
A bit of damage had been done but then it was quickly controlled. What made this possible was that the film was releasing straight on OTT platforms, and hence Netflix and Jio Cinema could work out the modalities pronto, create a space for the film and stream it immediately.
Now imagine how this might have played out had the film been scheduled for a Friday theatrical release.
This reminds me of the trouble that Ekta Kapoor had to go through when her Great Grand Masti was leaked online before it could hit the screens. A sequel to Grand Masti, which had business of Rs102 crore, ended up taking a meagre opening of just Rs2.5 crore and folded up at Rs14 crore - a disaster of epic proportions.
Coming back to Mimi; since the film is now officially available on OTT, circulation by illegal means is restricted largely to those who don't have an official subscription, want to see the film, and might have resorted to such means any way.
Also read: Review | 'Mimi': Trading misinformation for cheap laughs
This is what brings me to key point of contention: is online piracy being taken seriously?
Even at a conservative estimate, just in India, this market is worth thousands of crores. Consider this back of the envelop calculation: For every person who buys a ticket to see a movie in India, there are two to three others who download a copy illegally. If one looks at the box office revenue of 2019, the best year ever for Bollywood at the box office, the business stood at Rs 4,400 crore. Factor those who watch a film illegally and we have a Rs 10,000 crore market.
At a time when so many single-screen theaters are closing down because of the pandemic and even multiplexes are taking a cautious approach - only major chains like PVR and INOX are resuming operations at some of their properties - just imagine the kind of rejuvenation that the market could have expected if piracy had been tackled.
And, I am just talking about Bollywood business here. Combine key markets from the South - Tamil, Telugu, Kannada and Malayalam films - and we are probably looking at another Rs 10,000 crore being lost due to piracy.
From the 1980s to the 2000s, one often heard that film piracy circles used advanced technologies - VHS cassettes, VCDs, DVDs, then BluRays - to distribute the films. And those in the business couldn't keep pace. However, that was then. What about the current times?
This is obviously not an India-specific phenomena. In the US, Gal Gadot's Wonder Woman 1984 and Scarlett Johansson's Black Widow have both have seen losses in revenue due to global piracy, and that too in a range of $200-300 million each.
In the coming weeks, at least two big films are launching on OTT: Ajay Devgn's Bhuj: The Pride of India and Sidharth Malhotra's Shershaah. While we don't expect post-release online piracy to be tackled overnight, I just hope that none of it goes through the kind of trouble that Mimi had to, and see a clean arrival on Disney+Hotstar and Amazon Prime, respectively.Read more: Mimi the mommy: the image of the mother who smiles through sacrifices is reaching its expiry date