Bollywood strike casts a long shadow in New York

May 28th, 2009 - 11:41 am ICT by IANS  

New York, May 28 (IANS) A seven-week-old strike by Bollywood film producers that has brought India’s multibillion-dollar film industry to a halt has also cast a long shadow on small ethnic movie theatres in the US.
The Eagle Theatre, a little cinema hall in Jackson Heights, Queens in New York, is shut tight, its steel burglar gate pulled down and its marquee blank, battered and dark, the New York Times reported.

“The cause of the theatre’s untimely closing - like many things that happen in this bustling immigrant neighbourhood - lies not in New York but clear on the other side of the planet,” it said.

The Eagle specialises in first-run Bollywood movies, and without a supply of new films, theatres like it around the world have had to screen old ones, dip into the pricier Hollywood and European film catalogues - or shut down, the daily said.

“You get more frustrated when you have no say in it,” said Mohammad Asif, a Pakistani businessman who helps to manage the 500-seat Eagle, nestled in the heart of a neighbourhood thick with immigrants from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh and shops selling products from South Asia. “We’re not part of their problem, but we’re affected.”

Asif cited by the Times said business had also been “pretty bad” at the movie house he owned, the Bombay Theatre in Fresh Meadows, Queens. It remains open, though just barely, and is screening a recently released Punjabi film whose distribution was not affected by the dispute in Mumbai.

In fact, the temporary ravages of the strike, he said, are minor compared with a longer-term scourge that threatens scores of small ethnic movie houses like his across the country: film piracy.

As illegal versions of new films - including those from the vibrant Bollywood and Latino film industries - have proliferated farther and faster around the world, especially through file-sharing websites, box office revenue has fallen at small theatres that build their programming around new releases, the Times quoted industry experts as saying.

Patrick Corcoran, a spokesman for the National Association of Theatre Owners, a trade organisation based in Washington, cited a study commissioned by the Motion Picture Association of America, to say pirated films cost American movie theatres about $700 million in lost revenue in 2005.

Market experts believe that the annual losses have only mounted since then, the Times said.

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