On September 11, 2009, Hindi film star Salman Khan played himself in an episode of the immensely popular Sony Entertainment Television crime show CID. The episode is entitled “Khoon Piracy Racket” and unravels the murder of a private investigator hired to prevent the piracy of Khan’s upcoming film Wanted. The episode is one of the myriad attempts by the Indian media industry to educate the consumer on proper attitudes towards unauthorized discs. Here the lessons of intellectual property become manifest through the charisma of the plot: Salman Khan is a hard working and creative actor. Those who distribute pirated DVDs cause him harm. If you succumb to buying one, you too will harm Salman and you’ll be stuck with a poor quality product, the purchase of which will nourish all varieties of low lifes and thugs...
While the presence of the DVD in the episode is generally used towards such instructive ends, the final scene goes beyond the rational norms of IP compliance. Here, Khan and other members of the cast of Wanted stand at the Mumbai docks with the two police inspectors. In a jocular mood, they sing “Mera Hi Jalwa,” a song from the film, and compliment each other for nabbing the pirates. Gesturing towards four oil canisters, the inspector gives Salman the go-ahead to ignite the fake Wanted DVDs. Salman teases that this is their “Diwali” (festival of lights). As the flames rise, Salman praises the inspector, saying, “The nation’s proud of you, Sir!”
The moment is triumphal and the atmosphere carnivalesque, offering a display that stands visually apart from the rest of the episode. But what exactly are the burning DVDs saying? If the creation of a DVD is called "burning" due to the process by which a laser melts a pattern onto a disc to add data, perhaps we can think of the burning here as symbolizing the excess data of the pirated DVD. The fact that Salman is the agent of the event, encouraged by the inspector to start the fire, breaks down the boundaries between state and citizen and between policing and recreation. Given that there is no marked difference between an original and the copy, the burning of the discs could just as easily be read here as a lawless act, a violation of procedure and destruction of property.
I liked the analytical links you made between burning of the DVDs and DVD-burning, and then the subsequent blurring of the boundaries between state and citizen and original copy.
On the issue of state and citizen as well as original and copy, there might be interesting connections to be made with the film Wanted, where Salman is both 'fake' gangster and 'real' police informant.
I was wanted to know your thoughts on choosing Salman for this episode on piracy. Here I'm thinking of Salman's star persona. While certainly in the past few years, Salman has tried to clean up his 'bad boy' image and become a 'massy hero,' the black buck shooting case, the negligent driving case, the bursts of temper continue to associated with his star image. Unlike Aamir, Shah Rukh or Amitabh, he's not seen an upstanding citizen. How might this star image be important in reading this episode?
Thanks for your observations
Thanks for your observations and questions, Suzanne.
I was also struck by the Diwali reference. Diwali is religious, celebrating the vanquishing of a demon by the forces of righteousness. It is also secular, marking the beginning of the fiscal year. In this clip, we see several such cultural connotations. One of the evil agents of DVD piracy has been vanquished and now we enter a new era of doing business, it seems to be saying. I wonder how audiences "read" this Diwali reference.
I find it interesting that this section of the episode was a bit incongruous with the rest. Is this deliberate top-down propaganda inserted at the request of the Indian government? Or are "public service" messages like this more voluntary on the filmmakers' parts in order to support public policies or popular sentiments?
Suzanne, I enjoyed reading your post and Jasmine's post together, foregrounding a comparison of Khan's guest appearance on CID and the employment of action film stars as OMB officials. This comparison produces a series of questions, but I am most curious about the popular reception of these star turns (with respect to both the specific videos that you and Jasmine posted and the broader legal, industrial, and cultural reliance on stars as anti-piracy figures.)
Thanks Monika, Matthew and Lisa, for your invaluable comments.
Monika, thanks for bringing up Salman’s Khan’s star persona and his role in Wanted. Wanted is often described as hyper-violent and Salman’s character commits the majority of the violence before the plot reveals his “true” identity as an IPS officer. So, most of our pleasures and reactions are determined by his actions as gangster---despite the ending setting the story right ideologically. This kind of mistaken identity is not new, and I am reminded of Dostana (2008), where for the bulk of the film one can enjoy the homoeroticism between the characters played by John Abraham and Abhishek Bachchan, and the revelation that the relationship is actually put-on does not diminish that pleasure. In terms of “originals” and “copies,” it is also important to note that Wanted itself the second remake of the Telegu film Pokiri.
The IP regime has a knack for incorporating star personas. I'm not sure if less controversial figures like Aamir and Shah Rukh (who do speak out against piracy, usually before a film's release) are immune to incorporation into the regime. For example, in 2007 Shabana Azmi, a left-leaning liberal actress, reportedly appeared in conjunction with the MPA in an "educational event" where she drove over pirated DVDs with a bulldozer. Here the campaign appropriated images from her activist work in anti-slum demolition, where she'd tried to stop bulldozers from razing informal housing.
Matthew, This ending probably would not have been inserted at the behest of the government. The entire episode was likely initiated by the producers and has to do with the relationship between Sony Entertainment Television and the production company Sahara One. I was trying to draw a distinction between the earlier scenes, which provide anti-piracy messages, and the final scene, which is less easy to read as “message.” I appreciate your wonderful reading of the Diwali reference, and also wonder how people would read it considering that it appears to be used almost unconsciously as an exclamation of joy, and that Diwali is thoroughly a part of television culture through serials, ads, etc.
Lisa, after this episode aired on Sony Entertainment TV, it was reported that some of Salman’s fans in Mumbai were moved to carry out raids of their own (http://origin-www.ibnlive.com/news/salmans-fans-carry-out-antipiracy-rai...). I think this is exactly the kind of result the producers were aiming for.
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