Delhi HC directs Chhapaak filmmakers to give credit to lawyer Aparna Bhat in the film

Delhi HC directs Chhapaak filmmakers to give credit to lawyer Aparna Bhat in the film

The Delhi High Court today directed makers of film, Chhapaak to give credit to the acid attack survivor, Laxmi Agarwal's lawyer, Aparna Bhat, during the screening of the film.

As per the order, the filmmakers shall acknowledge the contribution to the film made by Advocate Aparna Bhat in the beginning of the film by adding the line,

“Inputs by Ms. Aparna Bhat, the lawyer who represented Laxmi Agarwal are acknowledged.”

Since the film is already being exhibited in theatres, the Court has directed the filmmakers to bring the necessary changes by January 18, failing which the movie shall not permitted to be exhibited.

The Court has restrained the filmmakers from releasing 'Chhapaak' on any electronic medium as well without acknowledging Aparna Bhat's name in the opening credits.

Speaking to Bar & Bench, Bhat said,

"I am quite happy with this order passed by the High Court. I think this is even better because unlike the trial court order where the whole credit issue was very innocuous.. here, the Court has very specifically said that it should be in the openning credit and with specific reference to my inputs (to the film).. While I am happy with the order, I am also sad that I had to resort to litigation to get what is due to me rightfully."

Aparna Bhat

The order was pronounced by a Single Judge Bench of Justice Prathiba M Singh in a plea by Chhapaak Producer, Fox Star Studios challenging an order passed by the Trial Court.

Earlier this week, the Court of Additional Senior Civil Judge had ordered Fox, KA Productions and Director Meghna Gulzar to add a slide on the actual footage and the images of the film with the line ‘Aparna Bhat continues to fight the cases of sexual and physical violence against women’ during the screening of the film.

Challening the direction, Fox Star Studio and Director Meghna Gulzar had argued that Aparna Bhat had no legal right, statutory or contractual, to seek acknowledgement for her contribution in the film in the form of consultation, inputs and documents.

A WhatsApp exchange between Bhat and Gulzar was also placed on record toclaim that in fact, Gulzar had not "acknowledged" any person in this film or even in her earlier film 'Talwar'.

The trial court order was also assailed on the ground that no case was made out for the grant of an ad interim ex parte mandatory injunction.

Further in terms of the Bar Council of India Rules, there was a complete bar on Advocates to solicit or advertise their work, directly or indirectly, it was submitted.

Bhat, on the other hand, had argued that the conduct of the film makers amounted to breach of trust and her claim seeking acknowledgement in the film was not only based on promissory estoppel but "something higher".

It was submitted that such assistance was based on Bhat's communication with Gulzar that her contribution would be acknowledged.

Agreeing with Bhat's submissions, the Court has concluded that the non-acknowledgment of Bhat's contribution was contrary to what was represented to her since the inception of the making of the film.

"A perusal of the e-mails and the communications exchanged between the parties shows that the Plaintiff (Aparna Bhat) and Defendant No.1 (Meghna Gulzar) were previously unknown to each other and the Plaintiff was contacted specifically in the context of the production of the film. She rendered her assistance in the making of the film. The letters, e-mails and WhatsApp messages show that an expectation was created in the Plaintiff’s mind that her inputs and contribution in the making of the film would be adequately acknowledged.", the Court said.

The Court added that Bhat's effort, skill and labour could not be undermined especially after a clear assurance, representation and promise was made to recognise her contribution.

"In the absence of a contract and payment of consideration, her efforts, skill and labour cannot vest with the producer completely gratuitously. She at least has a right to be recognized and acknowledged, to which the Producer/Director had willingly agreed since the beginning of the project... Clearly, from the initial screenplay, which was to acknowledge both Ms. Laxmi Agarwal and the Plaintiff, the complete absence of any mention of the Plaintiff’s name anywhere in the beginning or in the end credits would constitute reneging from the promise. A perusal of the credits shows that a large number of contributors have been expressly acknowledged.", it said.

In view of the above, the Court opined that at this stage, due to the imminent release of the film, the balance of convenience was tilted in Bhat's favour.

The Court, therefore, proceeded to direct makers of 'Chhapaak' to acknowledge the contribution made by Aparna Bhat in the film.

Read the Orders:

CM M 15 2020 FOX STAR STUDIOS (11012020) Judgment Final.pdf
CM M 15 2020 FOX STAR STUDIOS (11012020) Oral Final.pdf
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