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Home >Industry >Media >Why the ‘Mr India’ rights dispute points to more loopholes in Bollywood

NEW DELHI: A few weeks ago, Zee Studios stoked controversy by getting Tiger Zinda Hai and Sultan director Ali Abbas Zafar on board for a three-part remake of the 1987 classic, Mr India. But the fact that the film's original director Shekhar Kapur and lead actor Anil Kapoor were unaware of the sale of remake rights and irked about not being consulted points to deeper loopholes in Bollywood, said media industry experts.

“The copyright act in India says that in the absence of a contracted agreement to the contrary, the producer is the only owner of cinematic rights," said Ankit Sahni, a lawyer practising at the Delhi High Court, who specialises in intellectual property rights (IPR). Sahni referred to the fact that in this case only producer Boney Kapoor, Anil Kapoor's brother, would hold the copyright.

Sahni added that a lot of countries such as the US, Australia and New Zealand follow similar norms as India, though in the UK, there are laws that allow the director to also hold rights. Boney Kapoor, however, did not respond to Mint’s queries on whether he was the only copyright holder in this case and had sold them to Zee.

Zee also did not respond to the Mint's queries.

“The problem in the Hindi film industry is there has never been any paperwork on these things. The director is always for hire though he can claim to have come up with nuances on look and feel but he can’t fight it out with the producer," film distributor Yusuf Shaikh said, calling the director and actors’ moral stake a totally grey area.

In the past too, Bollywood has seen disputes on IPR sharing. In 2013, the remake of Amitabh Bachchan-starrer Zanjeer had landed in a controversy as original writer, Salim Khan, had demanded 6 crore as compensation since the makers did not take his permission before going ahead with the movie. Filmmaker Ram Gopal Varma was directed by the Delhi HC to pay producer Ramesh Sippy 10 lakh as punitive damages for copying portions of the latter’s all-time blockbuster Sholay in his film Ram Gopal Varma Ki Aag that "distorted and mutilated the original copyright work of the plaintiffs".

To avert the challenge, many filmmakers have called their films mere re-imagination and not official remakes with the same title as the original such as Vishal Bhardwaj’s Maqbool and Omkara, adaptations of William Shakespeare’s tragic plays Macbeth and Othello, respectively.

Atul Mohan, editor of trade magazine Complete Cinema pointed out that at least new-age Bollywood actors have become extremely smart about sharing rights of their films with producers. Everyone from Shah Rukh Khan, Aamir Khan, Salman Khan, Akshay Kumar, Ajay Devgn and female stars like Deepika Padukone and Anushka Sharma are now co-producers on their movies, with equal authority to exploit rights of the films through different avenues like satellite, overseas or digital or for specific periods of time, after which they may pass them on to others, besides demanding a share of almost 30-40% in final profits.

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