Aftab Ahmed Khan was once one of India s top police officers, whose fight against terrorism and organized crime led to a Bollywood film about one of his most daring encounters with the mob.
Now retired and running a security consultancy firm, he is back on the trail of criminals; hunting down movie pirates who experts say cost the Indian film industry hundreds of millions of dollars in lost revenue every year.
Khan has teamed up with four movie production houses – Moser Baer, Studio 18, UTV and Eros International – to take on the DVD counterfeiters that are the scourge of movie industries from Hollywood to Bollywood.
And after just two months of investigations, Khan s task force has already pointed police in the direction of several sources of illegal DVDs and been instrumental in dozens of arrests.
Piracy is killing the film industry, said Khan, who had a cameo role in the 2007 film Shootout at Lokhandwala, based on his exploits leading a team of crack police marksmen that killed six gangsters at a Mumbai housing complex.
When a family of four watches a pirated DVD, then it is a direct loss to the theatre or multiplex owners, or for that matter the DVD rights holder of the film and also the government, because they don t get taxes, he said.
The Indian film industry makes more than 1,000 films and attracts three billion movie-goers annually.
It is currently worth some $2.1 billion a year and is estimated to grow to about $3.4 billion by 2013, according to the latest figures compiled by the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI).
But Khan said he believed piracy is costing Bollywood an annual 15 billion rupees ($300 million).
The figures would appear to back him up – a report by the US-India Business Council and Ernst and Young says that India s film industry lost nearly 572,000 jobs and $959 million to piracy in 2008.
Most Bollywood movies, made in Hindi, premier in cinemas across the country on Fridays but pirated copies are often available on the same day – or even before the films open – for as little as 20 rupees (40 cents) each.
And with tickets for many of the new multiplex cinemas costing more than 200 rupees each, pirated DVDs are in big demand.
It is better that I buy 10 new pirated DVDs of 10 new films and see it for 200 rupees, said chartered accountant Bijal Dedhia.
Indian copyright laws are strict – with offenders risking a maximum six months in jail if caught, although few people are aware of the law or even know they are doing something wrong.
Bollywood s anti-piracy drive is supplemented by a tie-up between the international Motion Pictures Association and Indian studios, which aims to stamp out everything from illegal copying of films to unauthorized downloads and signal thefts by cable television channels.
And those behind the anti-piracy initiative believe they are making inroads.
This new initiative is showing positive results, said senior UTV executive Prakash Nathan.
We all four companies have come together and are now creating awareness among the consumers about piracy, he said. The result has been fruitful and satisfying in the last two months.
The chief executive of Studio 18, Sandeep Bhargava, added: In USA the DVD market is huge and earns revenue four times that of theatrical release.
But in India you earn only five percent compared to that of theatrical release and it is because of this piracy.
The problem is the fact that there is not much awareness among Indian consumers so these things are going on.
Khan is clear that piracy – often, as elsewhere in the world, linked to criminal gangs – will only disappear if it is targeted consistently.
You have to hit the main sources and our 70 staff members are hunting them down everywhere, he said.