The Deepika Padukone starrer ‘Chhapaak’ found itself amidst many litigations prior to its theatrical release (just like any other film in recent time), Chhapaak is a movie based story telling of the real life struggles of Ms. Lakshmi Agarwal, an acid attack survivor.
Ms. Aparna Bhat who had fought the legal battle of Ms. Lakshmi was approached by Ms. Meghna Gulzar for her inputs on the script and soundness of law on the film topic. Ms. Bhat provided her inputs free of charge and without any contract in place as she was assured by Ms. Meghna that she would be given due credit for her contribution in the film credit sequence.
Cut to the present (not too far away from the order dated 9th January, 2020, passed by the Additional Senior Civil Judge available here and the order dated 11th January, 2020, passed by the Hon’ble Judge of the Delhi High Court available here), the Courts have directed to give Ms. Bhat the credit she deserves in the film credit sequence.
I. THE IMPUGNED ORDER
Summary of the order dated 9th January, 2020, passed by the Additional Senior Civil Judge :
- Bhat (plaintiff) is an advocate practicing in the Hon’ble Supreme Court and fought the case of Ms. Lakshmi from 2005 – 2015.
- The Defendant no. 1 approached the Plaintiff in 2016 for making a film which is based on the acid attack case of Ms. Lakshmi.
- In the rough draft of the film script the following was added ‘Aparna Bhat continues to fight cases of sexual and physical violence against women’ by the Defendant no. 1.
- The fact that the name of the Plaintiff had been unilaterally omitted from the credits sequence was noticed by the Plaintiff at a special screening of the film to which the Plaintiff was invited.
- The Plaintiff had prima facie been able to show an infraction of her legal right emanating from the agreement and facts presented.
- The Court ruled in favour of the Plaintiff and held that it is necessary that her (plaintiff) contribution be acknowledged by providing on the slide of actual footage and images, the line ‘Aparna Bhat continues to fight cases of sexual and physical violence against women’ during screening of the film.
- The matter was thereafter listed for hearing on 14th February, 2020.
The aforesaid order dated 9th January, 2020, was challenged in the Hon’ble Delhi High Court and was heard by Justice Pratibha M Singh, details of the order are as under-
A. Summary –
The Hon’ble Court issued the following directions –
- Restrained the Defendants from releasing the film on any electronic medium without acknowledging the name of the Plaintiff in the opening credits in the following manner: “Inputs by Ms. Aparna Bhat, the lawyer who represented Laxmi Agarwal are acknowledged.”
- Since the film was already made available for theatrical viewing in India and internationally, the Court directed, without disrupting the on-going screening, that the film shall not be exhibited in theatres with effect from 15th January, 2020, without the above credit being added to the digital copies of the film’s opening credit slides.
B. Issues addressed –
- Whether giving credits to Ms. Bhat would amount to violation of Rule 36 of Bar Council Rules which prohibit advocates from soliciting work.
- Whether Ms. Bhat is entitled to acknowledgment under the doctrine of promissory estoppel.
- Whether Ms. Bhat can claim acknowledgement for her contribution in the absence of a contract.
C. Brief Facts and Analysis –
- The doctrine of promissory estoppel was invoked by Ms. Bhat to seek reliefs.
“in order for any conduct to constitute promissory estoppel, there has to be a clear and unequivocal promise, which is intended to create a legal relationship, and that such promise would be binding.”
- The parties were previously unknown to each other and a perusal of their communication shows that an expectation was created in the mind of Ms. Bhat that her inputs and contribution in making of the film would be adequately acknowledged. The law is also well settled that promissory estoppel can act both as a defence and as a cause of action. In the present case, it is the latter. There is no doubt that the non-acknowledgment of the contribution of the Plaintiff is contrary to what was represented to her since the inception of the making of the film.
- The Hon’ble Judge also opined that, in the absence of a contract and payment of consideration, the efforts, skill and labour of Ms. Bhat 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.
- The Court held that it is a well-settled position in law that in order for any person’s paternity rights in any work to be recognised, a written contract is not required. The right of paternity is an integral part of the moral rights of a person who makes any contribution.
- To settle the legal issue as to whether an ad interim mandatory injunction can be granted at the ex parte stage the judgement in Dorab Cawasji Warden v Coomi Sorab Warden was relied upon. A mandatory injunction can be granted to restore the status quo ante and to remedy a situation at once. The standard required for a mandatory injunction is higher than that of a prohibitory injunction, and the same is granted when the injury cannot be compensated in money.
D. Key Citations
|Sr. No.||Party Details||Relevance|
|1||Neha Bhasin v Anand Raaj Anand & Anr||The right of paternity is an integral part of the moral rights of a person who makes any contribution.|
|2||Suresh Jindal v Rizsoli Corriere Della Sera Prodzioni T.V. Spa and Others||there is no doubt in our minds that, whether there was a concluded contract as claimed by the appellant or not, the appellant did play some part in making the film possible and that the respondents are acting unreasonably in denying him the benefit of the limited acknowledgment he is entitled to have|
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