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Petition seeks succour from a 'smear campaign'

Bollywood production houses, organisations sue Republic TV and Times now

The lawsuit marks a milestone moment in showbiz that usually fights shy of stepping up and taking a collective stand on raging issues
Delhi High Court
Delhi High Court
File picture

Our Special Correspondent, PTI   |   New Delhi   |   Published 13.10.20, 02:07 AM

Many of the biggest names in the Hindi film industry have closed ranks for an unparalleled initiative to file a petition in Delhi High Court seeking succour from a vicious “smear campaign” being pursued by two television channels and their studio spearheads.

As many as four industry organisations and 34 production houses associated with the who’s who of Bollywood have filed the lawsuit seeking a restraining order on Republic TV, Times Now, their lead anchors and social media platforms that have been targeting the industry in the guise of seeking “justice” for the late actor, Sushant Singh Rajput.

The plea seeks a court directive 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 to refrain from making or publishing irresponsible, derogatory and defamatory remarks against the film industry. 

The petition marks a milestone moment in showbiz that usually fights shy of stepping up and taking a collective stand on raging issues.

Regardless of the outcome of the legal measure and the durability of the solidarity, the initiative is all the more remarkable because of a perception that the slander campaign has the tacit approval of the Centre that is eager to keep the diversionary pot boiling.

Bollywood’s decision not to take it lying down anymore also comes at a time any sign of dissent or defiance is being crushed using the instruments of State.

The production houses which have signed up include that of Shah Rukh Khan, Aamir Khan, Anil Ambani, Ramesh Sippy and Karan Johar. (See chart)

The petitioners include the Producers Guild of India, the Cine and TV Artistes Association, the Film and TV Producers Council and the Screenwriters Association.

 A standout name among the production houses is Cape of Good Hope Films, a subsidiary of Hari Om Entertainment that is owned by Akshay Kumar. The star had hit the headlines just before the last general election when he interviewed Narendra Modi and helped enlighten the nation on the mango-munching style of the Prime Minister.

Industry sources suggested that not all who had lent their names necessarily share the same views but they had little option but to join the parade in the face of such a concerted drive that also mentioned how livelihoods are being put at risk because of the television campaign.

Reacting to the petition, Suhas Palshikar, a Pune-based political scientist, tweeted: “Filing suit is fine. Real test will be whether the industry succumbs to pressures about what it should and should not place before the public. The war is over culture. And of course who it gives money to and what political stand it takes.’’

Some critics described the petition as an attack on freedom of expression. But the petition makes it clear that it is not seeking a gag order.

The petitioners 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 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.

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.

“The industry has more than 5 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 said.

The head of a prominent production house said:  “When we talk about Bollywood, it is 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 conduct a media trial.” 

Several filmmakers welcomed the initiative — the mood summed up by director Hansal Mehta’s tweet: “About Time”.

Unsurprisingly, a contrarian was actress Kangana Ranaut who tweeted: “Bullywood the gutter of drugs, exploitation, nepotism and jihad….”

Times Now group editor Navika Kumar responded to the petition by tweeting: “If fighting for justice invites court cases, bring it on. All the a-listers can come together but India will continue to fight for the truth. You can’t intimidate us…..”

She tagged Aamir Khan, Shah Rukh Khan and Karan Johar, prompting many on Twitter to point out that she had not tagged Akshay Kumar and Ajay Devgn. Did she not think the two were A-listers, the Twitterati asked. Others joked that she had not dared to tag Bhai, possibly a reference to Salman Khan.

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