Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Go, pirates!

Am pleased to report that whatever minor moral qualms I had about buying pirated DVDs have vanished, like breath into wind (yes, still on the Macbeth trip). Am I the first babe-in-the-woods to discover this or did everyone else know that the films we get here on official discs (the ones priced at Rs 399/599 and found at Planet M, Music World etc) are randomly censored? The same way the movies in those thick plastic-cover cassettes (forget the company name now) used to be in the video era. And the same way, of course, that movies screened in our regular halls are cut.

I’ve been buying legit DVDs quite frequently, against the counsel of friends who say it’s insanity to spend that much on a single disc. (What to do, I’m finicky about proper packaging and such. Besides, you don’t get everything at Palika Bazaar.) There was no problem all this while because the films I’ve been picking up from Planet M have mostly been Hollywood oldies: Sunset Boulevard, His Girl Friday, The Grapes of Wrath, Mary Poppins, a few films for my classics column for the New Sunday Express. No content there that might be deemed objectionable by our certificate-suppliers. But a couple of days ago I bought the DVD of Francois Ozon’s atmospheric Swimming Pool and discovered that entire scenes (mainly involving nudity by the delectable Ludivine Sagnier – and one scene, crucial to the plot, with Charlotte Rampling at the very end) were missing. (I’ve seen the film before, hence was aware of the deleted scenes and how the cuts affected the film’s continuity.)

Subsequently, a friend informed me that his officially purchased Pulp Fiction DVD has bits cut out from the confrontation involving Marcellus Wallace, Zed and the Gimp in the cellar, and possibly from a couple of other scenes. This is worse than disgusting; if the authorities are so bent on playing moral guardians, they should at least stop trying to put out crumbs for the non-mainstream/world cinema audience. Stick to old films and the occasional Hollywood summer blockbuster that’s G/PG-rated and sanitised in the first place. (It’s a strange morality that allows you to watch only Jerry Bruckheimer movies all day long, but what do I know.)

Nor is sex-and-violence censorship the only problem. On my Swimming Pool DVD, the portions of the film that were in French didn’t have subtitles, and there were no options to enable them on the “special features” menu. It threw me back to that day many years ago when I excitedly bought a very impressively packaged videocassette of The Godfather Part II, rushed home and found there were no subtitles for the flashback sequences (with De Niro playing the young Vito Corleone, the dialogue mostly in Italian). It’s all very well to bleat on about the film industry losing a lot of money to piracy – this is true enough on its own terms, and I sympathise with the struggling, lower-profile filmmakers who suffer as a result. But not including subtitles (or audio options, or the promised special features for that matter) on an “approved” DVD priced at Rs 500 is a blatant case of cheating the customer. Besides, man is a selfish animal and does not live on family films alone.

Back to the Palika Bazaar grind now…

Related posts: DVD extras, the Palika shop, DVDs vs VCDs and discs that aren’t properly packaged. Also, a nice, balanced comment here about the evils of piracy – which makes all this dicking around with legit discs even worse.


  1. The same goes for music as well. I'd bought Californication by RHCP and exchanged it for Bringing Down the Horse by The Wallflowers, a few months later, with some chap on a train. The Wallflowers cassette wasn't available in stores anymore, so I thought it was a good deal.

    Bought a Californication cassette again on reaching Delhi, only to find that the expletives had been muted, thus destroying the continuity of the songs.

  2. I saw the film and all I remember is Sagnier's nudity. I say you're lucky to get the chance to appreciate the film for itself, to explore its various subtle meanings and resonances without the distraction of Sagnier being herself...

  3. *Plug for Arihant Plaza's DVDs, in Bangalore*

    Sorry, it's just that I bought DVDs behind a downed shutter in Palika Bazaar a few months ago; most were camera prints with poor audio, a few didnt work and the guy first quoted 200 bucks.

    So the next time you are in Bangalore, check out our pirates. They're pretty good.

  4. I say you're lucky to get the chance to appreciate the film for itself, to explore its various subtle meanings and resonances...

    Cheshire cat: But this is not why I bought the film! Man does not live by nuance and resonance alone...

    Nikhil: ya, that's probably a lot worse. Happened to me with an Eminem cassette once - which basically meant all you could hear was silence.

    Dilettante: oh, I'm sure Electronic Zone is better than any shop in B'lore!

  5. It is really sad when self appointed moral guardians decide to meddle with an artist's intentions. Although not as severe, some amount of censorship happens in the US as well e.g. the DVD of the Mexican film, Y tu mamá también, is censored in the general release version.

    A company also invented a DVD player that automatically 'cleans up' the movie you are watching !

  6. does this mean i'm on the verge of getting lazarescu? should i hold my breath?

  7. If there's something in the film I don't like, I can either fast-forward or skip. And I'll do so if I'm offended by something (rarely) or if I find it a pain to watch. No need for anyone else to determine it for me.

    [And just how long would the original of 'Jay and Silent Bob strike back' be? 10 minutes? 15?]

  8. In the US, one gets R rated & NC-17 rated versions of the movies. Bertolucci's Dreamers was available in R at our local Blockbuster video rental chain, since they don't carry anything above that. I had some bad luck on that 'scene-sheen' front. Like when Bad Lietenant didn't have some key nudity scenes (fortunately, one involved Harvey Keitel). I saw the other day that they had Tinto Brass's "Caligula". I wonder how much of the movie remained! The public libraries that away carry the unexpurgated version of the movies, thank God! That's how I saw John Waters's "Pink Flamingoes". Wonder what would have happened if some self-righteous parent found out they were carrying 'trash' like that & giving it out to underage kids...

    I also remember watching some of these movies on Star in the 90s. The version of Reservoir Dogs I saw got over in 75 minutes (sans cuss words) & I had NO idea what was happening. And it was only when I reached the US that I realized Kate Winslet had a nude scene in Titanic that the good people at Chanakya (rather, the Censor Board) decided I shouldn't watch :-)

    Regarding the missing subtitles, I had bought Kill Bill 1 in one of my visits to Calcutta, happy at getting a good deal. I lent it to an American friend, who pointed out the next day that the Japanese subtitling was missing in those crucial scenes!

    I am happy I listen to expletives-free music, since I do bu a lot of my music from India :-)

  9. There are a couple of ways to go about acquiring DVDs legally(ish) without having to put up with the changes.

    Option 1: get both -- the official, shrinkwrapped re-edited version and the complete version. This may or may not be legal depending on where you are.

    Option 2: order online. You'll probably have to pay a bit extra for shipping, but you can get some pretty good deals second hand. However, make sure your DVD player works with whichever region you're buying from.

  10. Forget about before, even now.....the original VCD of the Godfather trilogy released in India does not have subtitles for the flashback sequences for the Italian parts - a fact which my roomie had discovered painfully after paying 750 rupees to Crosswords. I on the other hand have a beautiful pirated copy of the triplogy whch boasts crystal clear picture quality and all required subtitles, missing scenes and director's commentary :D

  11. On a different note.....i bought 12 kurosawa dvd's in singapore recently, and the buggers have changed all the japanese names into chinese ones in the subtitles... eg Red Beard (Akahige) is changed for some weird reson to Brown Beard....and all Japanese names have become Chin or Tan or Chan or something.....bloody *expletives*

  12. it was only when I reached the US that I realized Kate Winslet had a nude scene in Titanic

    Tipu: many other people had exactly that experience. I watched the film on an uncensored VCD (I think it was the first VCD I ever saw) and subsequently realised that it had been censored in the halls and that most friends didn't know there was anything other than G content in it. (We were having one of those, you know, deeply intellectual comparative analyses of Winslet's nude scenes in films like Jude, Holy Smoke etc, and I brought up Titanic, only to find everyone gawping at me.)

  13. the original VCD of the Godfather trilogy released in India does not have subtitles...

    Soham: ouch, let's not even talk about VCDs here. Only muddies the issue further. But yes, that bit about Kurosawa in Chinese is strange. Incidentally, the "official" Taxi Driver DVD I bought at Planet M seems to have been put together in Malaysia or such. The default settings (including the main menu script...and even the film's audio track!) were in some other language and I changed them back to English with great difficulty.

    Nath: around 70 per cent of my DVDs are from London anyway. Much prefer paying extra for the films I really want, if it means the special features etc will all be intact.

  14. @Dilletante
    Would you happen to have the number of the Arihant Plaza guy?