In an unprecedented show of unity, major Bollywood producers, including the three Khans, Karan Johar and Akshay Kumar, on Monday approached the Delhi high court against two TV channels and their editors for allegedly defaming the industry with terms such as 'scum' and 'druggies'.
The lawsuit, by four industry associations and 34 producers, seeks the court's direction to Republic TV, its editor-in-chief Arnab Goswami and reporter Pradeep Bhandari, Times Now, its editor-in-chief Rahul Shivshankar and group editor Navika Kumar and unknown defendants as well as social media platforms to refrain from making or publishing allegedly irresponsible, derogatory and defamatory remarks against Bollywood.
It also seeks to restrain them from interfering with the right to privacy of persons associated with the Hindi film industry.
The industry has been under a cloud since actor Sushant Singh Rajput's death in June and the pushback is the first time that the biggest names of the Hindi film industry have banded together in such a way, said industry insiders.
The civil suit, which cites reportage of Rajput's death and the subsequent Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) probe into the alleged role of some actors following allegations of drug abuse in the industry, is likely to come up for hearing later this week.
Those who have approached the court include the Producers Guild of India, Cine and TV Artiste Association, Film and TV Producers Council, Shah Rukh Khan's Red Chillies Entertainment, Aamir Khan Productions, Ajay Devgn Films, Akshay Kumar's Cape of Good Films, Karan Johar's Dharma Productions, Yash Raj Films and Farhan Akhtar and Ritesh Sidhwani's Excel Entertainment.
The producers said they are 'not seeking a blanket gag order' but want the defendants to abide by the provisions of the Programme Code under the Cable Television Networks Rules and to withdraw, recall and take down all the defamatory content published by them against the film industry.
'This comes in the wake of these channels using highly derogatory words and expressions for Bollywood such as 'dirt', 'filth', 'scum', 'druggies' and expressions such as 'it is Bollywood where the dirt needs to be cleaned', 'all the perfumes of Arabia cannot take away the stench and the stink of this filth and scum of the underbelly of Bollywood', 'This is the dirtiest industry in the country', and 'cocaine and LSD drenched Bollywood',' the suit filed through DSK Legal firm said.
The industry, the filmmakers said, is unique and dependent almost solely on the goodwill, appreciation and acceptance of its audience. It is also a big source of employment and the livelihood of persons associated with it is 'severely impacted' by the smear campaign being run by the defendants, the plea said.
It pointed to the COVID-19 pandemic that has resulted in the loss of revenue and work.
The producers also issued a statement that ended with the hashtag '#Bollywood Strikes Back'.
"The entire industry was pained by the malicious media trials going on for the past few months now. We thought it was about time to unite and fight this and decided to go to the court," a member of the Screenwriters Association told PTI on condition of anonymity.
"The industry has more than five lakh people working in various capacities. The name calling was affecting even spot boys. This was the last resort and we aim to fight it out legally," he said.
A prominent producer added that the idea was to take a dignified approach.
"This is an initiative championed by the Producers Guild and they have thought about it wisely and we are happy to support anything that is about promoting good and peaceful work in these uncertain times," the producer told PTI.
The head of a prominent production house said 'a serious amount of baggage' has been built around the industry by certain channels in the last three-four months.
"When we talk about Bollywood, it s not about 20 superstars, there are workers, producers, technicians and others who are also a part of the industry. They are killing the whole industry which provides livelihood to millions of people. You can't do a media trial," he said.
To say that the entire industry is of drugs and mafia and people here only engaged in immoral activity is absolutely not right, the filmmaker said, expressing his happiness that the industry has come under one umbrella.
CINTAA's senior joint secretary Amit Behl echoed his view.
"All of us stand united against attempts to defame the entire filmmaking community.
"The film industry is made up of lakhs of hard working individuals and we cannot accept being collectively labeled with all sorts of allegations.
"We would not like to comment any more as the matter is in court," Behl told PTI.
The lawsuit is being seen as an unusual step from an industry, many of whose members are notoriously chary about being drawn into controversy.
On Monday, the industry's decision to go after television and social media was hailed by actors and producers on social media.
Welcoming the news, director Hansal Mehta wrote, 'About Time'.
Actor-host Simi Garewal tweeted, 'Bollywood Strikes Back. About time too! These news media channels had crossed all limits. Using stars and abusing them for TRPs!! Why should it be tolerated?'
Filmmaker Onir said, 'Finally!!! They are doing what not the biggest of superstars but a bunch (of) brave actors and filmmakers have been doing every single day.'
He also tagged Mehta, filmmaker Anubhav Sinha, Swara Bhasker, Richa Chadha, Taapsee Pannu and Md Zeeshan Ayyub, lauding them for always speaking out.
Sinha, Chadha and Bhasker retweeted the news with Bhasker adding, 'Yep! And well done!'.
Rajput's death initially sparked a debate on how Bollywood is unkind to outsiders but took on an entirely different angle after the actor's family filed a first information report against his girlfriend Rhea Chakraborty.
It accused her of abetting the actor's death, laundering his money and isolating him from his family.
The case, which was initially investigated by the Mumbai Police, was finally handed over to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) while the Enforcement Directorate and the Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) also got involved.
Chakraborty was arrested by NCB last month in connection with the drug trail in Rajput's death.
She was released on October 7 after 28 days in jail while her brother Shovik is still in the prison.
As private Whatsapp chats started to appear in public and became the stuff of sensational headlines, several stars, including actor Deepika Padukone and Sara Ali Khan, were called in for questioning and others were also questioned by the authorities.