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Fighting the pirates of Bollywood

And, no, not the swashbuckling kind.

Bollywood actor Shah Rukh Khan interacts with moviegoers as he promotes his new movie "My Name is Khan" in Mumbai Feb. 20, 2010. (Manav Manglani/Reuters)

BANGALORE, India — "The last time my family and I watched a much-hyped Bollywood movie in the cinema, it cost me 1,200 rupees ($27) for the tickets, popcorn and soda. If I had taken home a pirated DVD for 40 rupees (less than $1), I could have avoided the traffic on the streets and the crowds in the multiplex. Why don’t I save money and watch the movie in the comfort of my home next time?"

So writes a poster called ‘dfjdl’ on, one of India’s most heavily trafficked web sites.

India is among the world's most avid movie markets, for both Bollywood as well as Hollywood films. It is also one of the biggest markets for pirated movie DVDs and music CDs.

Take recent Bollywood blockbuster movies "3 Idiots" and "My Name is Khan." Within hours of the movies’ release, furtive vendors at street corners hawked illegal copies of the movies for as little as 30 or 40 rupees, half the price of a single movie ticket in a Bangalore multiplex.

“For every $100 a movie makes, it is losing $50 to piracy,” said Amitabh Bardhan, CEO of PVR Cinemas, one of India’s largest movie theater chains. “It is a system leakage that we have to plug,” he said.

And piracy isn't confined to Bollywood or even to India. Bollywood films are enjoying an unprecedented burst of popularity overseas and are counterfeited in the United States, just as much as Hollywood films are pirated in India.

So Bollywood and Hollywood executives are trying to put an end to the rampant piracy. The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) has partnered with seven of the biggest Bollywood production studios including YashRaj Films, UTV Films and Reliance Big Entertainment.

The collaboration will fund efforts to combat movie piracy in India. The MPAA-Bollywood studio coalition is already at work, conducting raids in Mumbai over the past several weeks, and seizing thousands of pirated DVDs.

“Copyright theft jeopardizes a movie’s ability to make money, in turn affecting the level of investment available for movie-making,” said Taran Adarsh, a Bollywood trade expert in Mumbai. This in turn results in fewer films and fewer new jobs in the country, he said.

India’s underground market of pirated movies is a complex web. Within days of release, organized pirate gangs sneak camcorders into movie theaters and flood the corners of this movie-obsessed country with thousands of bootlegged copies. Such illicit recording makes up some three-quarters of all piracy here.

There is plenty to pirate. In India, Bollywood movies — with their mind-boggling storylines, lavish dance sequences and extravagant costumes and melodrama — are the primary source of mass entertainment.

For those earning a couple of dollars a day, affording a movie ticket can be a squeeze. “Why would anybody want to go to the cinema if he can find a hawker selling him a five-movies-in-a-DVD for as little as 100 rupees ($2)?” asked Adarsh, the Bollywood analyst.

Online piracy rates are also very high. Despite low internet penetration and slow broadband connections in India, movies are freely downloaded through file-sharing networks.