Seven years after making what is universally considered one of the worst Hindi films ever, filmmaker Ram Gopal Varma will now have to pay for it too, quite literally.
The Delhi High Court on Monday slapped a Rs 10 lakh fine on Varma, who has previously made acclaimed gangster dramas such as Satya (1998) and Company (2002), and his production house for "intentionally and deliberately" coming out with the remake of blockbuster Sholay (1975), violating the exclusive copyright vested with its director, Ramesh Sippy.
The judgment was delivered on a lawsuit filed by Sascha Sippy, son and grandson of original Sholay's producers Vijay Sippy and GP Sippy, in which he had alleged that the remade film had violated an exclusive copyright held by the Sholay Media and Entertainment Pvt Ltd.
The high court imposed a fine of Rs 10 Lakh as "punitive damages" on Varma, his production house M/S RGV Productions Pvt Ltd as well as Varma Corporation Ltd and Madhu Varma and restrained them from using any character like Gabbar or Gabbar Singh in the original film.
Sholay, a Bollywood 'curry western' based loosely on Japanese filmmaker's Akira Kurosawa's classic Seven Samurai (1956), is one of the most enduring films in Hindi film history. In 1999, the BBC called it "the film of the millennium". The film won many awards, did extremely well at the box-office, and is now considered a classic.
The film featured Amitabh Bachchan (who played Jai in Sholay) as the dreaded bandit Babban Singh, a reference to the original film's villain, Gabbar Singh. It also starred Ajay Devgn, Mohanlal, and Sushmita Sen.
The high court said Varma and others "in the present case have intentionally and deliberately brought the movie in violation of plaintiffs' exclusive moral rights of copyright and passing off."
It held that Varma's film gave an overall impression that it was a remake of Sholay as the characters Gabbar and Gabbar Singh were misused, along with music, lyrics, dialogues and background score of the blockbuster also featuring Dharmendra, Sanjeev Kumar, Hema Malini and Amjad Khan, among others.
"The publicity material coupled with the impugned film, gives an overall impression that it is a remake of the film Sholay. The use of similar plot and characters in the impugned film coupled with use of the underlying music, lyrics and background score and even dialogues from the original film Sholay amounts to infringement of copyright in the film Sholay," Justice Manmohan Singh said.
Further, the high court said the makers of Ram Gopal Varma Ki Aag had "distorted and mutilated the original copyright work" of the maker of original Sholay.
"On the relevant date, they were aware about the rights of the plaintiffs, their ownership and authorship as well as use of unauthorised copyright. It is not the case of the said defendants that the same is not created by the plaintiffs and they are not the owners and authors," the order said.
It also held that even if Ram Gopal Varma Ki Aag is considered as an adaptation of the original, it was without authorisation of the copyright owner amounting to "passing off as the plaintiffs are the owner of the names of characters and dialogues".
Such use by Varma and others was unauthorised and it was their deliberate act "in order to gain profits", the judge said, adding that "they are also guilty of infringement under Section 14(a) read with Section 55 of Copyright Act, 1957."
The high court said the producers and director of the remake film "are not able to assign any valid reason for the same and despite of statement made in the court for change of the name of the movie, when the same was released, still it appears that the defendants' movie have similar name of the characters and they have used the lyrics and dialogues in material form in their movie."
"The movie was produced and released without authorisation from the owner and author ie plaintiffs," the High Court held.
(With inputs from PTI)