Backroom buildup in soap war - Battery of lawyers lined up to block Karishma

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By OUR BUREAU in Calcutta
  • Published 10.05.03

Calcutta, May 10: 12, Old Post Office Street. A dilapidated building, diagonally opposite the imposing structure of Calcutta High Court. The entrance, a concrete strip opening into a cobbled courtyard converted into a narrow passageway. On the first floor, a sparkling glass door reading ‘FM’ in a stylised font opens on to a plush office lobby and several chambers with black robes hanging on hat pegs.

This is Fox & Mandal, solicitors and advocates, tracing back its origin to Calcutta 1896 when J.K. Fox and G.C. Mandal joined in partnership to establish one of the first Indo-British law firms in the land.

The outward calm on Saturday afternoon, with bearers in white lounging around, belies the buzz running through “one of India’s oldest and largest full service legal organisations”. For this is the backroom of the battle to beam or not to beam Karishma: The Miracles of Destiny or maybe the ‘secret’ Hindi adaptation of A Woman of Substance.

Lending an intriguing twist to the tale of the Sahara vs STAR soap wars is the fact that Barbara Taylor Bradford’s bestseller is a HarperCollins publication. And HarperCollins Publishers is “the book-publishing subsidiary division” of News Corporation, owned by Rupert Murdoch, who, of course, is the man behind STAR TV. And STAR’s showpiece is STAR Plus, ruling cable and satellite stakes with its hugely-popular saas-bahu sagas.

Sahara Manoranjan was bidding to change all that with the ‘serial’ charge of the Bollywood brigade on the small screen.

Bradford, apparently, selected Fox & Mandal to slam Sahara Manoranjan’s forthcoming mega-serial Karishma for “breach of copyright”, as she personally knew a partner of the company. This was disclosed by a young solicitor of the firm headquartered in Calcutta, but with seven offices throughout the country. The partner, he adds, is keeping in touch with the author, and relaying her instructions.

Why Calcutta High Court? There are no clear answers forthcoming. “Jurisdiction is not an issue here as any court in the country where the serial will be beamed can hear the case. We could have filed the case anywhere in the country,” insists the Fox & Mandal man.

But the fact is that the case has come to stay in Calcutta and caused more than a little flutter. The Delhi and Calcutta offices of Fox & Mandal are jointly co-ordinating the “first such high-profile copyright violation case” in this part of the world.

“We can’t divulge details about when she (Bradford) contacted us because it is crucial to the case. We can only say that she felt she must do something as it was a clear case of lifting from her novel without seeking any permission,” explains the solicitor.

The weekend, of course, represents a lull before the Sahara vs Substance storm, with several members of the serial’s creative crew said to be trickling into town to bolster the channel’s bid to beam the serial on schedule (Monday, 9.30 pm). “We will field a battery of lawyers to take on Sahara’s might on Monday when we expect them to appear in court to have the order vacated,” asserts the solicitor of the firm that “grew in Calcutta” till 1984 before sprouting associate offices in other cities.

With over 150 lawyers, fee earners and support staff, Fox & Mandal deals with “a wide range of legal issues”, and picks intellectual property rights as “one of the fastest growing legal fields in India”. But there is no issue of royalty or damages attached to the Bradford case, claims the Fox & Mandal official. “We are not talking about any damages. Our client is only interested in an injunction over the broadcast of the serial.”