The Delhi high court on Thursday refused to stay the release of several movies, purportedly based on the life of late Bollywood actor Sushant Singh Rajput, including Nyay: The Justice which is scheduled to be released on Friday, saying these films are neither portrayed as biopic nor factual narration of what transpired in his life.
'Posthumous privacy right is not permissible,' the high court said in its interim order on a plea by Rajput's father to restrain such films.
The court said it found merit in the submissions of producers and directors that if information of events which have occurred is already in the public domain, one cannot plead any violation of right to privacy on a movie inspired from such events.
Some of the upcoming or proposed movie projects based on his son's life are -- Nyay: The Justice, Suicide or Murder: A star was lost, Shashank and an unnamed crowd-funded film.
Justice Sanjeev Narula dismissed the application by Rajput's father Krishna Kishore Singh seeking to restrain anyone from using his son's name or likeness in movies, saying 'the plaintiff has failed to satisfy the three-pronged test for grant of preemptory injunction to restrain exhibition of the films'.
The court, however, directed the filmmakers to render complete accounts of the revenue earned from the films, if any case of damages is made out in future and listed the suit for completion of pleading before the joint registrar.
The court said the producers and directors claimed the films to be fictional rendition of true events surrounding the lives of film/TV personalities, including Rajput who was reportedly found dead at his home in Mumbai.
The investigation is still on.
The court noted that senior advocate Vikas Singh, representing Rajput's father, has fleetingly argued that the right of free speech, in matters of news reporting, does not enjoy the same protection when it comes to matters of commercial exploitation.
The court said the argument is misconceived and one cannot read this classification of core and non-core rights under Article 19(1) (a) of the Constitution and the protection and guarantee provided by the Constitution would apply with equal rigour, even if the publication leads to commercial gain.
'They (defendants) have firmly stated that nowhere has the plaintiff or his family or SSR's name, image, persona, likeness etc. been used by them. The only resemblance to SSR, as defendants have asserted, would be an imaginary dramatisation of some of the events that occurred in his life. The artistic freedom to create fictional works cannot be controlled, limited, or confined within set boundaries.
'An artist's inspiration can come from any source, and the court cannot filter real-life events. This court finds merit in the submission of the defendants that details of the demise of SSR received widespread and protracted news coverage in all media, which are available in the public domain, and form a part of the public record,' the court said in its 42-page verdict.
It added that courts grant pre-publication injunctions only in exceptional circumstances and this reluctance is rooted in the importance attached to the right of free speech and blanket injunctions or gag orders should be avoided, unless extremely imperative.
'Since the defendants' films are neither portrayed as a biopic, nor a factual narration of what transpired in the life of the SSR, and are depicted to be complete fictional and inspired from certain events which have occurred in the past and have been widely discussed and are available in public domain, the court finds no reason to grant a restraining order,' the judge said, noting that makers of movie Nyay: The Justice have also inserted a disclaimer to the film.
The court said that prima facie it does not find any element to hold that the film would lead the public to believe that it is a true story or a biopic that has been authorised by Rajput's father.
Once the disclaimer is included at the beginning of the cinematograph film, any apprehension that the plaintiff has about passing off that the film is a biopic of SSR will be put to rest, it added.
The court found merit in the contention of the defendants that plaintiff's action is belated as Rajput passed away on June 14 last year and news on his death was widely circulated in the media and production of the film was announced in August, 2020 and the suit has been filed close to the movie's release, after substantial time, money and effort have been expended by the makers on production and promotion.
The court said it does not find merit in the plaintiff's contention to restraint on the strength of his right to fair trial relating to the unnatural death of his son, saying no foundation is set up to demonstrate how the films would impair the trial.
'In fact, the accused persons who are named in the FIR or are being investigated have not come forward claiming prejudice.
'While it needs no emphasis that the right to fair trial is a valuable right, however, it must be remembered that the investigative agencies and judicial system do not rely on cinematographic films for the purpose of investigation or judicial pronouncements.
'They have to proceed to decide the issues before them by drawing their own inferences and conclusions based on the materials placed before them, in accordance with the law,' the court said.
The court termed as misconceived, plaintiff's plea that the content of the film is defamatory and will damage his and his son's reputation.