The ongoing war of words between director Shankar and producer V Ravichandran over the remake rights of Tamil film ‘Anniyan’ raises yet again the issue of how unprepared tinsel town is when it comes to written agreements, legal documents and other intellectual property matters involved in the making of a movie.
The original Vikram-starrer ‘Anniyan’ released in 2005. At present, the parties involved are bickering over an issue which may finally go to court, where they would be asked to produce an agreement showing which one of them has the rights to the script and its impending adaptation, and how the profit-sharing ratio should be arrived at. Since the writer of the film, Sujatha (alias Rangarajan) died in 2008, his family members may be able to throw some light, provided they are willing to participate in the ongoing tussle. Till then the industry stands divided over the issue.
Director Shankar, who has worked for multi-crore films and introduced advanced technology in his work, is not new to controversies. A non-bailable warrant was issued to him in the ‘Enthiran’ plagiarism case. Locking horns with him is ace producer Ravichandran, who has promoted many aspiring directors. An industry expert, on condition of anonymity, says both are fighting over something that was not discussed at the start of the project. “Old school producers and directors venture into a project without an agreement and later end up washing their dirty linen in public. First, bring in clauses such as right to refusal, profitsharing if a movie is remade in other languages in future. The baffling part is this movie was dubbed in Hindi when it had released. People are asking why it is being remade when the subject is well known.”
Senior advocate N L Rajah says given the complex nature of the copyright law, these issues are bound to happen. It is better parties resolve them through institutionalised bodies that pass resolutions, without souring relationships. Arbitration can be one way. “With the current restriction due to the pandemic, it is better they do not knock at the court’s door because it may take years to arrive at a conclusion. All creative people for the good of the industry must bring in a structure to avoid these unwanted ambiguities and disputes.”
Producer and Blue Ocean Film and Television Academy dean G Dhananjayan says having proper documents is essential. “When I produce a movie, I make sure all the papers are in place.
I procure the copyrights if I am to remake a movie to avoid any grey area. Young directors do their homework and come prepared when it comes to profit-sharing and remaking rights.”
Now that the ‘Anniyan’ tussle has reached the South Indian Film Chamber of Commerce, the office bearers should take a neutral stand and settle the issue before it reaches court, says producer Srinivasan Shivpprasadh, nephew of veteran actor and doyen of Tamil stage R S Manohar. He recollects how in the past there were people who had cleverly bought the negative rights of films from producers. “Director K Balaji knew the tricks of the trade and bought the negative rights for the Malayalam movie ‘Irumbazhikal’ to use the train sequence from our production house. There there are others like writer-director-actor Visu whose screenplay ‘Kudumbam Oru Kadambam’ was remade by Cochin Haneefa in 1985 as ‘Oru Sandesam Koodi’. Visu came to know of it only in 2005 and was shocked. He said he had signed all the papers given to him since he was a novice. So the industry has a mix of people who are clever and cunning.”
Dhananjayan says fighting a war without required documents is fruitless. Citing directors such as Jeethu Joseph and Pushkar-Gayathri as examples, he says people need to be categorical about their wants and rights and emotions should be kept at bay.
Madras high court advocate V Lakshminarayanan says the film industry has always been like this. “They do not have a proper registry. A script is sent to a producer or the concerned person through post, which they show as proof. A centralised registry is needed. Years ago, I had filed a suit on behalf of a writer when a director had lifted a story of his and made it into a movie without seeking permission.”
Even maestro Ilaiyaraaja got stuck in the ever-lasting grey area when he demanded royalties from S P Balasubrahmanyam for performing his compositions during the late singer’s world tour a few years ago. Legal luminaries say the Indian copyright law is a sticky subject. You can find everything you want to find in it, with almost every stakeholder finding clauses and rules that justify their motives. In most cases, such claims lead to a torrent of confusion and litigation.
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Views expressed above are the author’s own.
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