In the suit filed by Late AIADMK chief Jayalalithaa’s niece, Deepa Jayakumar, before the Madras High Court, seeking a stay on two in-production projects, allegedly based on the former Tamil Nadu Chief Minister’s life –a film “Thalaivi” and a web series “Queen”- will tell the politician’s story, the Madras High Court has vide its order dated December 12, 2019 refused to grant any stay on the release of the two projects. Read order here.

Read facts of the case here.

An application was filed by the Plaintiff for an interim injunction to restrain Respondents 1 to 3 (Mr. A.L Vijay, Mr. Vishnu Vardhan Induri and Mr. Gowtham Vasudev Menon) from, directly or indirectly, releasing, publishing or exhibiting a film, drama, serial, tele-serial, web serial, etc. in respect of the life of the late Dr.J.Jayalalithaa, the former Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu (the Former CM) and/or that of her family and their direct descendants without the consent of the Applicant/Plaintiff pending disposal of the suit.

Plaintiff’s Arguments:

  • Plaintiff being the brother’s daughter of Jayalalitha is her legal heir and has locus standi to file the suit to protect the right to privacy of her aunt which she alleged to be infringed by the proposed film and web series. Reliance placed on KIRTIBHAI Vs. RAGHURAMAN, Order dated 20.01.2010 (the Jalaram Bapa case) where the Gujarat High Court considered various judgments of the Hon’ble Supreme Court and foreign courts and concluded that the plaintiff had locus standi as a descendant of the late Shri Jalaram Baba..
  • Plaintiff has right to ensure that personality rights of her aunt are not exploited without her consent.
  • With regard to the contention of the Respondents on non-joinder of the producer and mis-joinder of cause of action, the Plaintiff submitted that the suit, as framed, is maintainable as per Order II, Rule 3 CPC, which enables the Plaintiff to combine causes of action, including in cases where a common question of fact or law arises in respect of an act or series of

Respondent No. 1 and 2’s arguments pertaining to the film ‘Thalaivi”

  • The Film is an adaptation of the book titled ‘Thalaivi’
  • The film will not have a single scene portraying the Plaintiff. Consequently, the plaintiff has no cause of action qua the Respondent 1 and 2
  • Privacy rights of Jayalalitha cannot be posthumously applied. Reliance placed on The Managing Director, Makkal Tholai Thodarpu Kuzhumam Ltd. Vs. Mrs. V. Muthulakshmi, (2007) 6 MLJ 1152 (the Veerappan case), wherein the Madras High Court held that the right to privacy of the late forest brigand, Veerappan, did not subsist after his death and that in view of the undertaking that the right to privacy of Veerappan’s wife and daughters would not be affected, no case is made out for the grant of an interim injunction to restrain the release of the serial “Santhana Kadu” subject to the condition that it would be based on public records and field information.
  • public figures should not be thin skinned. With regard to privacy, in a democratic set-up a close and microscopic examination of private lives of public men is the natural consequence of holding of public offices. Reliance placed on R.Rajagopal @ R.R.Gopal @ Nakkheeran Gopal and another Vs. J.Jayalalitha and another, Order dated 06.05.2006 in O.S.A.No.86 of 2006 (the Nakkheeran case), R.Rajagopal vs. State of TN (1994) 6 SCC 632 (the Auto Shankar case).

Respondent No. 3’s arguments pertaining to the web-series ‘Queen’

  • Plaintiff seeks publicity not privacy
  • Web-series is based on the book titled ‘Queen’ which is inspired by true events
  • protagonist of the web series is called Sakthi Seshadri.
  • The web series would be fictional and would carry a disclaimer that any resemblance to real persons is coincidental and not
  • Applicant/Plaintiff does not have locus standi to file the suit or the interim application. Reference made to an interview that was given by the Applicant to the magazine, “The Week”, wherein the Applicant stated that she was estranged from her aunt and that she was not permitted to enter her aunt’s house for many years. Reliance placed on Kerala High Court’s decision in M.P.Raju and others Vs. T.G.Chacko and others, 2005 SCC Online 430 (the M.P. Raju case), wherein, at paragraph 13 to 15, in the context of Section 499 IPC, the Kerala High Court held that a complaint in respect of the defamation of a deceased person can only be given by his family or other near relatives. The Kerala High Court concluded that the expression “family” in Section 499, IPC, should be narrowly construed so as to include only the husband, wife and children. The privacy rights of the Former CM cannot be exercised posthumously by her estranged niece.
  • the Applicant has not even established that she is entitled to succeed to the estate of the Former CM as per applicable succession laws and, in these facts and circumstances, she cannot be permitted to enforce an alleged right of prior restraint.
  • Applicant is not entitled to an interim injunction on account of laches.
  • Reliance placed on case relating to the former Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, K.Kamaraj, namely, A.Balakrishnan Vs. R.Kanakavel Kamaraj, 1999 SCC Online Mad 563 (the Kamaraj case), wherein, at paragraphs 12 to 17, the Court held that the history of the national leader is not an asset which could be inherited by any person and that merely because the legal heir of the late Mr.K.Kamaraj assisted him during his last days, it cannot be said that he was the custodian of the history of the late Mr.K.Kamaraj.

Court held as under:

  • With respect to Respondent 1 and 2 since they have contended that they acquired the adaptation rights of the book ‘Thalaivi’ and submitted that the proposed film would not cast a stigma on the Applicant and that she would not be depicted in a single scene in the film, the privacy rights of the Applicant per se are addressed.
  • Release of the film would be subject to certification of CBFC wherein CBFC will be following due process of law and raise objections on any objectionable content.
  • Since production of the film and subsequent release are months way, no case made out for interim injunction against Respondent 1 and 2.
  • With respect to Respondent 3, the court noted that the web series is based on the book titled ‘Queen’ which is inspired by true events.
  • As regards personality rights, the court noted that even on a prima facie basis, it is difficult to accept that the Applicant/Plaintiff has inherited the personality rights of her aunt. The question as to whether such rights are capable of being inherited would have to await trial and final disposal. The question as to whether the Applicant is entitled to restrain the public exhibition of the web series in exercise of the posthumous right of privacy remains to be considered.
  • However, the Court was of the view that the web series of the third Respondent should not infringe the privacy of the Applicant (i.e. by demarcating and differentiating it from the assertion of posthumous rights) pending determination of the suit.
  • Weighing between the Respondent’s right to freedom of expression and Plaintiff’s right to privacy, the Court was of the view that at this juncture, the Respondent’s right weighed against that of the Plaintiff.
  • Subject to the rider as regards the privacy rights of the Plaintiff, the court found the balance of convenience in favour of the respondents. The third Respondent shall adhere to the commitment of providing a disclaimer that it is a work of fiction and that resemblance to real persons is coincidental and not intentional and also ensure that no character closely resembling the Applicant is depicted in the web series pending adjudication of the suit.

It would be interesting to see the final decision on this case with respect to the inheritance of personality right and posthumous application of privacy rights.

Image source: here