DVD piracy kills cinemas in Mauritius

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Due to the developments in VCR and DVD piracy, cinema halls find it increasingly difficult to attract viewers. The Mauritian public find it easier and more economical to go for DVD piracy. With the DVD market booming, cinema halls are left with only a few customers daily.

"3 DVDs for Rs 100 only, for Rs 100 get 3 DVDs", shouts a DVD hawker in the streets of Port-Louis. He attracts a crowd of people who eagerly browse through the racks of his DVDs, pick the films of their choice, pay and go.

"How can we get customers when DVDs are being sold at Rs 50 everywhere and even at Rs 10 in Rose-Hill?" says the manager of Star Cinemas, Shirley Chomayan. Having working for Star Cinemas for the past eight years, Shirley has noted a decrease of approximately 80% in their entrance ticket sales. Each of their cinema halls has 340 seats and "sometimes we play for one or two persons only". This phenomenon repeats itself through week days and it's only during weekends and school vacations that they can gather up a maximum of hundred people. That is not even one-third of one hall capacity.

Same scenario at Cine Classic cinema. "Our sales have decreased by 40% in the last year," says Kishore Ramkalawon, the manager. He relates how for the première night on Friday, he had only 15-20 people, which is only 20% of the hall capacity, which can take up to 400 viewers per show. He is quite distressed over this lack of viewers.

Indeed, most of the cinema halls in Mauritius are facing the same problem, they are most of the time empty. They spend hundreds of thousands of rupees to buy and import the latest films and they hardly get enough revenue to cover the cost of the film itself. Asking the managers whether they are doing something to remedy this situation, they lash out that all their pleas to the ministry have met deaf ears.

Indeed, for years now they have been leading a crusade against the VCD and DVD piracy. According to Kishore Ramkalawon, unless the government puts forward some strict actions against video piracy, nothing will change. He even claims that, if this situation persists in this way, his "cinema hall will no longer exist". The owner of a shop, who sells genuine film DVDs, says: "These people who sell pirated DVDs on the streets are a real mafia and the cinema culture will not last here." According to him, Mauritians don't have a cinema culture. By this, he means, the ability to appreciate the works of art of the cinema. "Mauritius does not hold true film buffs.".

The main reason expressed by these lamenting cinema hall managers is this new and popular jargon of street DVD sellers: "3 DVDs for Rs 100 only." The skyrocketing cost of living and the prices of cinema entrance tickets are making lots of people stay put at home and watch films they have bought for Rs 50. Notwithstanding the fact that they are promoting the illegal practice of DVD piracy.

A DVD seller, a man in his early thirties, who asked to remain anonymous, near the Central market explained that in one day with 30-50 customers, he can earn up to Rs 2,000. This business is booming in the sense that people are more and more attracted by the low prices of the films and they can choose which film to watch without depending on the cinemas.

Saif Peeroo, a teenager gave his views on this situation; "DVDs are much more economical. For the price of one cinema ticket, you can have 3 DVDs." Asked about the consequences of those films being pirated, the young man let out: "But this is cheaper! What person in his right mind will go to the cinema when he can buy films at a much cheaper price? I personally cannot afford to go to the cinema every week!"

There are other advantages to be able to buy your film and watch it at home; you don't have other expenses, such as food, soft drinks, and if you have a car you don't need to pay for parking. It is much easier to sit at home comfortably in your couch and have home-made snacks and "you can even put the film on pause when you get a nature call!" said the young man laughingly.

A young girl also gave her point of view. "Going to the cinema is a way for me to get disconnected from the real world and since I usually go alone, it's much easier to appreciate the film." The young lady voiced out her feelings on the DVDs and said, "Nothing can replace the experience of watching a film in a cinema hall. The décor, the music and the colours are much more appreciated as they are intensified on the big screen."

If you want to go the movies nowadays, it will cost you at least Rs 600 if you are alone and with somebody else - spouse, friend, etc. at least Rs 1000. If you don't have your own transport, you also have to cater for this cost.

Filmmaker South Africa