The Delhi High Court on Thursday refused to stay the release of the film ‘The White Tiger’ which is scheduled to release on the online streaming platform, Netflix on January 22 (John Hart Jr vs Mukul Deora & Ors).
“There is no material on record to justify the plaintiffs approaching this court less than 24 hours prior to release seeking stay. It is settled … that any party approaching court at the end hour, seeking interlocutory indirection against the release of cinematographic film, is disentitled to any such relief,” a single-judge Bench of Justice C Hari Shankar stated.
Stay on the release of the Priyanka Chopra and Rajkumar Rao-starrer film was sought in the suit by John Hart Jr and Sonia Mudbhatkal (plaintiffs) for copyright violation.
The order was passed by the Court in a virtual hearing held after 7 pm.
In its order, the Court opined that prima facie, from the material of record, it was not possible to concluded that the film was a byproduct of illegal copyright infringement.
While Hart claimed that he had “won” the right to make a movie adaptation of the book “The White Tiger” in March 2009, Mudbhatkal stated that she had contacted Hart to launch her production career with the book.
“Heavens will not fall if OTT release is delayed by few days.”, Advocate Kapil Sankla for John Hart Jr argued as he claimed that there would be a travesty of justice if stay was not granted.
Hart informed the Court that there was a “Literary agreement” between him and the author, Aravind Adiga, to make a movie adaptation out of the award-winning book.
“My right is unchallenged since that day. I am a man of some standing in Hollywood. I would be under bonafide belief that process that was followed throughout would be followed in this case. I did not know some person sitting in India would flout this process,” Sankla contended.
The Court was informed that Hart even sent a legal notice after he became aware of making of the film in October 2019. However, he was under the impression that no film shooting was taking place amid COVID-19 pandemic, Sankla said.
Seeking protection from Court, he added,
“This would be the height of piracy. I have purchased rights on the international forum… in India itself, these rights are being taken away. If it were theatre release, there would have been checks and balances, which have been given go by since it is an OTT release.”
Appearing for Mukul Deora, Senior Advocate Sandeep Sethi opposed the grant of stay on the release of the film.
“You have come to the court less than 24 hours before the movie’s release.. None of these notices referred to in the plaint has been filed. There is an attempt to conceal facts.”
Sethi added that all claims were waived off by the second plaintiff, Mudbhatkal, in view of a settlement with the Particle Media Pvt Ltd, one of the defendant’s companies.
Appearing for other defendants, including Netflix, Advocate Saikrishna Rajagopal stated that the film was made after due diligence and was not the result of copyright violations.
While the promotions commenced in October, the film was released in US theatres on January 11, 2021, the Court was informed.
After hearing the counsel, the Court opined that no case for the grant of last-minute stay was made out.
“However watertight your (plaintiffs’) case may be, a person who approaches court in last minute has to make out… stopping a release of a movie has serious ramifications on producers, director, channel… you are not the only one whose finances are in consideration,” Justice Shankar remarked during the hearing.
Noticing that a “veritable network of agreements” pertaining to the rights in the book had not been placed on record by the plaintiffs, the Court said,
“If you (plaintiff) think I am going to give you relief without placing any of these on record, you are badly mistaken. Why should I not take… that this is not an open and shut case of blackmail? Do not blame corona for everything. I am not convinced. There is absolutely nothing… This is just an attempt to browbeat the defendants. … I am not in the least satisfied with bona fides of the client.”
The Court noted that the plaintiffs were aware of the possibility of the subject film being released on Netflix at least as far back as October 2019.
“It is no answer to the delay that owing to COVID that plaintiffs were under impression that no shooting would take place or that film would not be released….. there is more to the case than meets the eye. Without having the aforesaid documents (agreements) and chance to peruse.. this cannot court cannot come at prima facie finding that defendants have infringed the copyright of plaintiffs,” the Court said.
The Court ultimately opined that prima facie, the grant of stay would result in irreparable consequences for the defendants.
While declining the grant of stay on release, the Court asked defendants/makers to keep detailed accounts of earnings from the film.
The suit was filed through Advoctaes Mohini Priya and Ashutosh Thakur.