Kangna Ranaut in 'Rangoon'Kangana Ranaut in 'Rangoon'

Vishal Bhardwaj's much anticipated film, 'Rangoon', which is up for release next week, is caught in a legal wrangle. Film production firm Wadia Movietone Pvt. Ltd. has filed a commercial suit against the filmmaker and others in the Mumbai High Court for copyright infringement. Roy Wadia, on behalf of the firm, has claimed that Kangana Ranaut's central character of a feisty stuntwoman, is based on Australian stunt actress Mary Evans, who was known by her screen name Fearless Nadia. The firm holds sole rights to scripts, posters and publicity material for Fearless Nadia films produced by it. It alleges that the makers have infringed on the copyrighted character, including her costume, poses, even a catch phrase. Nadia was synonymous with the use of, "Bloody hell!" The first song that Rangoon's makers released was the foot-tapping, 'Bloody Hell'! Wadia's petition alleges that the film is nothing but an attempt to capitalise on the popularity of the Fearless Nadia franchise.

Wadia, who is MD of the firm and JBH Wadia's grandson, says the makers have carried out a breach of trust. It was back in 2006 that Wadia approached Ronnie Screwvala of UTV to make a film on Nadia. Things didn't materialise, but news emerged of UTV and Vishal making a similar film. The two clarified to Wadia that it was called Julia, and it didn't have links to Nadia's story. Later, through media reports, he learnt the project had been shelved. Meanwhile, in 2008, he got into an agreement with a German firm that could use all copyrighted material to make a movie on Nadia.

Nadia was introduced to movies  by brothers JBH and Homi Wadia Nadia was introduced to movies by brothers JBH and Homi Wadia

Seven years later, Wadia learnt through someone who had auditioned for a role that a film called 'Rangoon' was being made around Nadia's character. Wadia informed the makers that with the German firm holding copyright, this film would land him in legal trouble. While Disney UTV (then headed by Siddharth Roy Kapur) confirmed to Wadia and the German firm that it would not go ahead with the project, in 2016, news of 'Rangoon' resurfaced. But Vishal assured Wadia, says the petition, that it was a love story set in the 1940s against war but didn't draw on Nadia's character in any way. By then UTV Disney was out of the picture.

When in January this year, Rangoon's trailer released, Wadia realised that Julia was in fact, Nadia. Wadia's counsel Priyanka Khamani confirmed the news, saying, "We have filed a commercial suit. The matter comes up for hearing on February 20."

A member of the film's cast, requesting anonymity, said, "Kangana was advised to watch 'Hunterwali' [a famous 1935 Nadia stunt film], and the stylists told to reference her dressing for Kangana, who plays Julia. Some of the male characters also resemble those from Nadia's life."

Mary Evans (1908-1996) was an Australian stuntwoman best remembered for the 1935 film Hunterwali produced by Wadia Movietone’s JBH Wadia and  Homi Wadia. She eventually married Homi Wadia
Mary Evans (1908-1996) was an Australian stuntwoman best remembered for the 1935 film Hunterwali produced by Wadia Movietone's JBH Wadia and Homi Wadia. She eventually married Homi Wadia

Saif Ali Khan plays Rusi Billimoria, a swish filmmaker from the 1940s, madly in love with Julia. Incidentally, Nadia, who was introduced to the movies by producer brothers of Wadia Movietone, JBH Wadia and Homi Wadia, ended up marrying the latter.

A source close to the Wadias said, "Vishal was going to helm the original project planned by UTV Disney and it was to star German actress Franka Potente. But the project fell through because of casting problems. To the Wadias, it seems that 'Rangoon' is the same film now revived, for which they haven't been consulted or credited. Roy divides his time between New York and Bangkok. In the second week of February, he flew down to Mumbai to discuss details of the case before taking a final decision on the matter."

Mid-day reached out to the filmmaker and the film's producers, but a member from their publicity team said they didn't wish to comment since the matter was sub judice.

Vishal's side

Rangoon director Vishal Bhardwaj filed a detailed reply in court yesterday. A short excerpt of his affidavit, which is in hitlist's possession, reads, “The film is essentially a love story set in the early 1940s, during the tumultuous period of World War 2, between an actress, an Indian patriot /freedom fighter and a film actor/ producer. The film is based in the backdrop of the Indian Freedom Movement. The Freedom Movement, World War II and the ensuing love triangle involving the above-mentioned three lead protagonists are the most critical aspects of the film. The idea for the script of film was first conceived by Matthew Robbins, way back in 2005. In the same year, research for the film's script and work to prepare the script started in Mussoorie and Assam subsequently. The script of the film has been in development since 2005, jointly by Robbins, me and Sabrina Dhawan, who came on board as co-writer in 2015.

Till then, the film underwent several iterations and was completely overhauled over the past few years. The acclaimed writer,
Mr Amitav Ghosh, who is known for his proficiency in historical fiction, was consulted for the script in 2016 in Manipur. The script on which the film is based is registered with the Film Writers Association in 2016… The character of Julia is a composite of several leading ladies of that era and not on the film actress Nadia. The said actress has been independently sketched and fleshed out based on years of research by the team of writers working on the film (sic).”