The Amitabh Bachchan starrer 'Jhund' will not be released for the time being after the Supreme Court on Wednesday declined to lift the stay granted by the civil court and Telangana High Court against the release of the movie (M/S Super Cassettes Industries Pvt Ltd v. Nandi Chinni Kumar & Ors).
A three-judge Bench led by Chief Justice of India, SA Bobde dismissed the appeal by producer of the movie, Super Cassettes challenging an October 19 order of the Telangana High Court restraining the release of the movie in India and abroad.
Senior Advocate VR Dhond appeared for Super Cassettes while Senior Advocate PS Narasimha along with advocates Abid Ali Beeran and Sriram Parakkat represented the respondent, Nandi Chinni Kumar.
The petition had raised an important question concerning copyright law in India - whether true life events of a real person which are already in public domain can be considered 'property' which can be brought and sold and whether the same will be entitled to copyright protection.
The appellant, Super Cassettes Industries Private Limited (known as T-Series), had claimed that the movie is based on the life of football coach, Vijay Barse who is portrayed in the film by Amitabh Bachchan.
Hence, it was submitted the High Court was wrong to grant an injunction against the release of film on the assumption that there is copyright infringement in the life story of one Akhilesh Paul, who was the captain of the Indian Slum Soccer team coached by Barse.
The litigation was initiated by independent filmmaker Nandi Chinni Kumar, who claimed that he had purchased the right to make a movie about the life of Akhilesh Paul.
Paul had appeared on the television show Satyameva Jayate, hosted by Bollywood actor Aamir Khan. Kumar had watched the show and approached Paul to make his life story into a movie and permission was granted for the same for a monetary consideration.
In April 2018, Kumar came to know that the life of Vijay Barse was being made into a movie by Super Cassettes.
Kumar then approached the civil court contending that the movie 'Jhund' will have substantial elements from the life of Paul, on whose life story Kumar owns copyright.
The trial court, on September 17, 2020, ruled in favour of Kumar and restrained Super Cassettes from exhibiting the movie till the conclusion of the case. This order was upheld by the Telangana High Court on October 19, leading to the present appeal before the apex court.
The appellant, Super Cassettes, submitted that 'Jhund' is not so much about Akhilesh Paul as it is about his coach, Vijay Barse.
It was contended that the film does not deal with Paul, but with the tale of small-time criminals in slums who win a soccer tournament.
"Jhund is inspired by and revolves around the real story of a football coach, Vijay Barse who spotted a group of slum children playing football. Spotting talent and potential in them, Mr. Barse took them under his wing and coached them. The film is 'coach-centric'. The players in the team including its captain are secondary or incidental," the petition stated.
Further, with a view to avoiding any scope for potential legal issues, the character of the 'team captain' in the film was deliberately fictionalised so as to exclude any identity with Paul, the plea added.
Importantly, the appellant raised the issue of whether true life events of a real person can be considered 'property' which can be brought and sold, and if yes, whether the same will get copyright protection debarring anybody else from making a film depicting the said life story.
Moreover, it was also contended that real life events of two persons might be inter-connected. Hence, a third person who purchases the true life events of one person cannot prohibit others from making a film merely because the lives of the two persons in question converged at some point of time.
It was also the appellant's case that historical facts, information, events, or stories and experiences of real persons "cannot be the subject matter of copyright law."
Super Cassettes also claimed that an agreement was signed between the appellant and respondent on October 21, 2020, for a consideration amount of Rs 1.3 crore, which was paid by the appellant to the respondents with a condition to withdrawn all pending litigation.
However, the respondents after agreeing to the arrangement, sought to wriggle out from the same, citing certain differences in the clause of the agreement.
The appellants, therefore, termed the litigation instituted by the respondents as a "blackmail litigation", as failure to release the movie in November would cause damage to the appellants.
Senior Counsel Dhond adverted to this agreement when the case came up for hearing on Wednesday but Senior Advocate PS Narasimha rebutted the same stating that the settlement had "fell through."
The court offered to pass an order to expedite the trial but Dhond insisted that the case be heard by Supreme Court on merits.
"We will pass a direction to dispose of the suit within 6 months," CJI said.
"The film will be useless after 6 months. A settlement agreement for 1.3 crore was signed in presence of notary. Now they are not adhering to it. Please consider on merits," Dhond submitted.
The court, however, declined to interfere and dismissed the plea.