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Fighting for 'rights': Bollywood's writer-producer tussle

Bollywood has a fair share of instances where writers have fought filmmakers who may or may not have given them their due. With Sanjay Leela Bhansali forced to pay up for 'stealing' credit from a writer, we look at similar cases...

Four years after he filed a case alleging that Sanjay Leela Bhansali had stolen his story to make the film Guzaarish, writer Tabish Romani tasted victory when he was paid a compensation of Rs 3 lakh by the filmmaker.

Aishwarya Rai and Hrithik Roshan in a still from the film, Guzaarish
Aishwarya Rai and Hrithik Roshan in a still from the film, Guzaarish

In 2010, the writer had filed a complaint with the Film Writers Association (FWA). Six months after the film was released, FWA's Dispute Settlement Committee had asked Bhansali to pay the writer Rs 10 lakh as compensation.

Kamlesh Pandey, general secretary of FWA, recollects that the appellate board found many similarities in the two scripts. "These were beyond mere coincidence and the board ruled in favour of Romani, but Bhansali moved court which redirected him to FWA. He eventually decided to make an out-of-court settlement where he paid Romani Rs 3 lakh."

Sanjay Leela Bhansali awarded a writer Rs 3 lakh compensation as an out-of-court settlement
Sanjay Leela Bhansali awarded a writer Rs 3 lakh compensation as an out-of-court settlement 

Lyricist Faiz Anwar, who was not given due credit for a song in Rowdy Rathore, was then awarded Rs 80,000 as compensation by the Federation of Western India Cine Employees (FWICE). Pandey says that many such cases keep cropping up. "But there are times when writers take advantage of the producer and file cases just when the film is about to release. There have been several bogus cases too and we didn't entertain them.

Rising number of claims
Pandey adds that in a bid to tackle such cases, the FWA is taking precautions now. "We have made it mandatory for writers coming with complaints to sign an affidavit that they are the rightful owner of the copyright of their work or they have proper permission from the writer who owns the copyright and/whose work they are adapting."

After claiming that Jannat 2's story was similar to one written by him, Kapil Chopra got Rs 20 lakh and a co-writer credit
After claiming that Jannat 2's story was similar to one written by him, Kapil Chopra got Rs 20 lakh and a co-writer credit 

It may be pointed out that in 2012, Vishesh Films paid writer Kapil Chopra Rs 20 lakh and even gave him credit as a co-writer in Jannat 2. The writer claimed that the story of Jannat 2 was similar to a script he had written a year ago, but the Bhatts say that they had to pay the money under duress.

Mahesh Bhatt says, "We were advised by our lawyers to just 'pay up' as the film's satellite rights were under fire. Too many interests were at stake, so we decided, along with Fox, to bring a quick closure to this ugly incident. I feel sorry that in the bargain, Shagufta Rafiq had to share her credit with someone who had not done any work in the film."

Fighting till the end
In 2011, Shah Rukh Khan's Ra.One landed in similar trouble when writer-producer Yash Patnaik filed a case against the producers alleging copyright violation. Patnaik had claimed that Ra.One was the copy of a concept created and developed by him. After he moved court, SRK's Red Chillies Entertainment had to deposit a crore to get their film released in theatres across the country.

Ra. One landed in trouble when writer-producer Yash Patnaik filed a case against the film's makers alleging copyright violation
Ra. One landed in trouble when writer-producer Yash Patnaik filed a case against the film's makers alleging copyright violation

Imteyaz Husain, the then general secretary of FWA, says, "He had asked for a copy of the script that he had registered with us. We did not interfere in the case as he had taken the court route. The writer-producer said that he had registered the concept with FWA in 2006 and even made several presentations for Mushtaq Sheikh."

Speaking from Dubai, Yash Patnaik said, "They got to release their film only after depositing one crore but the case is still on and I will fight till the end. I am not somebody who will go in for settlement or a compromise."

Not just about money
In 2009, writer Chetan Bhagat had cried foul when the producers of the film, 3 Idiots, mentioned him in the film's end credits. The writer claimed that 70 percent of the film had been inspired from his book, Five Point Someone. His name didn't appear in the opening credits.

Director Raju Hirani refuted his charges and showed documentary evidence of the contracts signed by him with the production house. He also showed a non-disclosure agreement signed by Bhagat and denied the charge that he was not shown the final script of the film.

Another example is writer Sonal Mehta, who filed a case against Ram Gopal Varma in 2010 for not giving her credit for Rann. The director initially said that the writer was trying to gain mileage, and later opted for an out-of-court settlement with Mehta. Says Pandey, "Mehta gave us a lower figure but we heard that she was paid at least Rs 20 lakh." Interestingly, Mehta has quit script writing now.

In another case writer Varsha Adajlia got Rs 7 lakh as compensation from Balaji Telefilms; she had alleged that Ekta Kapoor's serial, Bandini, was based on her Gujarati novel, Retpankhi. Not many can forget the landmark judgment in 2008 when the court ordered producer Rakesh Roshan to pay music director Ram Sampath a hefty sum of Rs 2 crore for using his music without permission in the film, Krazzy 4.

Not the write choice

Cases where writers have tried but not succeeded in winning compensation from filmmakers:

> Krrish 3: One week before the release of the film, Uday Singh Rajput, a writer from Madhya Pradesh, approached the Bombay High Court alleging copyright violation. He sought a stay on the all-India release of the film saying that it shouldn't be allowed unless he was given a compensation of Rs 2 crore. He stated that he wrote the script for Krrish-2, which was a sequel to first movie in the Krrish franchise. However, the Bombay High Court rejected the plea and the movie released on time.

> Fashion: In 2008, actress-turned-author, Seema Seth, sought a Rs 2.5 crore compensation from Madhur Bandharkar, alleging that the plot and idea of the film was stolen by him from her book El-Dorado which was published three months prior to the release of the movie. The case was dismissed, as Seema repeatedly failed to make an appearance in the court.

> Desi Boyyz: Bearing striking resemblance to Hollywood films such as The Full Monty and Big Daddy, this 2011 semi-hit film came under the radar after scriptwriter-director Shyam Devkatte lodged a police complaint against the makers for copying his story.

> Atithi Tum Kab Jaaoge (ATKJ): With punchlines lifted from the comedy TV show, 'The Great Indian Laughter Challenge' and from the poster of the American romantic comedy, License to Wed, ATKJ came in the spotlight after its release. This is when celebrated novelist and veteran writer Aabid Surti sued the makers of the film for lifting the story from his Gujarati novel, Bauter Varas No Bab.

> Jodi Breakers: Universal Pictures International France and Ors, producers of the French romantic-comedy, Heartbreakers, filed a case against producers of the film, Jodi Breakers. They approached the Bombay High Court alleging infringement of copyright and demanded a compensation of Rs 5 crore.

> Ladies vs Ricky Bahl: Being blatantly similar to the American comedy, John Tucker Must Die, wasn't the only reason this Ranveer-Anushka starrer became controversial. The producers of a Tamil film titled Naan Avan Illai dragged Yash Raj films to court over alleged copyright infringement; this happened just a day before the film's release in December 2011.
— Shreya Agarwal

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