Cinema and terrorism: Will the world’s largest film industry take note?

April 24, 2010

A 2009 RAND report makes the connection between film piracy and terrorism. The Indian film industry is not taking notes, in spite of its own campaign against piracy.


The supply chain of creating and selling pirated DVDs has emerged as an important low-risk, high-return resource for terror and organized crime groups, and yet, India’s thriving and expanding film industry has not used this finding, published by RAND last year, to take its campaign against piracy forward. It is easy for the interested to pick up VCDs and DVDs of recent releases from the local market, even where vigilance against piracy is great.

Vanita Kohli-Khandekar, Watch a pirated film and fund terrorism, Business Standard, New Delhi, April 23, 2010.
Gregory F. Treverton, Carl Matthies, Karla J. Cunningham, Jeremiah Goulka, Greg Ridgeway, Anny Wong, Film Piracy, Organized Crime, and Terrorism, RAND Corporation, March 2009.

To Indians, the connections between cinema, politics, crime and terror are as familiar as the plot of a popular old movie.

In the last decade or so, the Hindi film industry’s connections to organized crime were exposed by two cases. The first involved the prolonged investigation of one of its leading men for illegal possession of weapons during the 1992-3 Bombay riots. The actor said he was trying to defend his family.His proven contacts with the city’s notorious gangworld opened him up to charges of terrorism. After fourteen years, he was sentenced to six years’ rigourous imprisonment; the terrorism charge didn’t stick, but the illegal possession charge did. The second involved a very successful producer who was charged with financing films at the behest of the underworld. That charge could not be proven but he was convicted on other charges (for non-disclosure of other connections to organized crime).

That the LTTE’s many front businesses included video libraries, is also something that one regularly heard in the 1990s. As any expat could tell you, in those days, genuine video-cassettes were outnumbered by camera-print, pirated copies. A week or month’s groceries and a few movies would bring the home-country into a living-room in an alien setting—nostalgia in the days before Netflix and multiplex screens devoted to Indian cinema.

The use of cinema to further ideological and political objectives is old hat in South India, particularly, with many theses and scholarly works devoted to this theme. The closeness between the political establishment and the film industry may be one reason why the Tamil Nadu government in particular has been responsive to concerns about film piracy, and why there is political will to take action against offenders.n particular has been responsive to concerns about film piracy, and why there is political will to take action against offenders.

Why hasn’t the RAND report received more attention in a country whose films are among its most profitable and celebrated exports these days? Even when the film industry has rallied in protest against terror attacks and or in support of terror victims, this is not a connection that the industry’s spokespersons or the media have bothered to highlight. Instead, the fight against piracy is couched in terms of intellectual property rights or loss of revenue, both arguably important to the aggrieved, but hardly something society at large would get upset about. Will this news report and subsequent attention given to the RAND report change this?