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Exploitation of Indian Films Outside India

12 Nov, 2021 | Archival Reproductions by Film India
Mr. Baburao Pai, a famous distributor and proprietor of Famous Pictures, Bombay

This article was written by Mr. Baburao Pai, Famous Pictures, Bombay

Everyone in the industry knows that there is to-day a widespread feeling of uncertainty and unsteadiness respecting the exploitation of Indian films outside India in places like Africa, Mauritius and Reunion, Fiji Islands, Singapore and British West Indies, where our films find scope for exploitation. This is certainly not due to the absence of opportunities - but chiefly owing to the lack of confidence and push on the part of the Indian Distributor, which accounts for the present unsettled conditions of this phase of his trade.
 
Our film distributors-not to speak of the producers have only a nodding acquaintance of the nature and conditions under which our films are sometimes exhibited in these far off lands.
Our film distributors - not to speak of the producers - have only a nodding acquaintance of the nature and conditions under which our films are sometimes exhibited in these far off lands. There are very few or none at all who maintain a direct representation. A few who were enterprising enough to maintain something like that had to discontinue it with the advent of economic and trade depression. Consequently, pictures in some cases, are being sold whenever possible or exhibited in these countries through the medium of local agents, whose business is to procure pictures for regular screening in these places.

There are of course a few distributors in Africa and other places for Indian films who have a trying time in the midst of foreign competition and government restrictions respecting the reception and exhibition of Indian films. The customs duty, recensoring charges, railway freight, non-availability of theatres, are just a few of the embarrassments. In addition, each distributor has to become a member of an organization (which controls exhibition of Indian films in Africa), and he has to screen his pictures according to turn. This is a serious handicap - since in some cases the distributors are obliged to return the films unscreened particularly if the film is rented out for a short period. When we survey this array of restrictions, encumbrances and obligations - it is no wonder that the businessmen in those places always have to tell you a very pessimistic story regarding business.
Owing to these difficulties, the overseas market is scarcely in a position to offer a decent return for Indian films, with the result that many promising pictures are held back.
Owing to these difficulties, the overseas market is scarcely in a position to offer a decent return for Indian films, with the result that many promising pictures are held back. In South Africa, for instance, Indian films fetch only 17 percent of the gross business made, out of which sometimes one has also to spend for re-importation of the film. What is it due to? The answer is, customs duty and censoring charges which take away almost all the profits. Sometimes, the Censor Board is so strict that pictures are banned outright without least consideration to the fact that an enormous amount of money has been already spent out of pocket by the businessmen for simply presenting the film for the Censor's Examination! As a result of these blood-sucking restrictions and conditions, Indian films in South Africa very rarely find a way, although this is an important province well populated by Indians, who are unfortunately prevented from enjoying film-entertainment, which as a matter of fact, has become a sheer necessity in all countries.
Occasionally, Indian films (in major cases only the best) are shipped through local agents for exhibition in the overseas market. These agents are self-centered and interested more in their personal gains than anything else.
Occasionally, Indian films (in major cases only the best) are shipped through local agents for exhibition in the overseas market. These agents are self-centered and interested more in their personal gains than anything else. This practice has more or less become common and has placed the Indian distributor in a dilemma regarding outside business. There are still a few I think who contrive to sell their pictures outright, which I consider quite fortunate-under existing circumstances, because a lump amount is got straightway which may not be available by renting as usual. This also helps the man at the other end, as he can exploit the picture conveniently. If the Indian distributor wants to gain something substantially out of overseas exploitation without sale - he must be prepared to detain his films on the other side for a long time. As he has no representative of his own he is unwilling to entrust these strangers. Granted, one has got a reliable party to do his job he cannot detain films particularly in Africa for more than two years during the course of which time only the most influential party can show a picture in all the centres in Africa.
 
SITARA
Entertainment in almost all countries has now become an unavoidable luxury and it is so for our Indian brethren too in the places under review, inspite of serious handicaps.
In spite of all the handicaps prevalent, trade depression, unemployment, etc., it is gratifying to note that our films are still in great demand in the above-mentioned countries, as the Indian population is always eager to see them. Exploitation fields of Indian films in the above-said places, need no exploration or simulation. Entertainment in almost all countries has now become an unavoidable luxury and it is so for our Indian brethren too in the places under review, inspite of serious handicaps. What we now require is a unanimous attempt to eliminate the difficulties in the way of our exploitation by taking up the matte with the Government. We may thereafter concentrate on standardization of exploitation. In this attempt at standardization, we are not likely to be benefitted immediately but in the long run we shall be. It is sufficient for our purpose that an order of importance can reasonably be established amongst ourselves.

We have already realised the evil effects of malpractice such as offering competitive prices and thus destroying our mutual business. By a wise step even at the present moment, the future may be in a position to generalize a sufficiency of well-being in this respect. It is such a style of co-operation amongst themselves and understanding that has enabled the foreign distributors (of course I am not denying the help they got from the Government) to maintain a successful chain of their exploitation throughout the world.
We shall be justified in a solid move to influence the Governments concerned to adopt such measure as will contribute to developing Indian film distribution in other countries.
We shall be justified in a solid move to influence the Governments concerned to adopt such measure as will contribute to developing Indian film distribution in other countries.

Product, consumption and demand are not private mattes. As long as the world is full of people no one can barter his products at will. If he does so, the results are detrimental. What I venture to suggest is that our overseas business should have a common protective institution - a medium which should advise the members upon all embarrassing situations and influence the Government to remove the obstacles in the progress of the industry. If this agreement is reached we shall have achieved one of our objectives to standardize this business to the advantage of not only the tradesman here, but also those overseas and thus jointly shape the destiny of the trade. Without such an institution we have not the opportunity to examine every possible side-nor can one alone do much to accelerate, modify or adjust things to advantage. Associated on the other hand, with his colleagues, in a body (and pooling the resources with M.P.S.I.), each of us will be in a position to contribute his best to direct this important part of our business to better and lasting advantage.

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This article is a reproduction of the original that appeared in Filmindia Magazine, Feb. 1938 (pp. 48-49).

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