Rakesh Bharti claims copyright to Laxmi Agarwal story but doesn’t move court against her

Bharti’s lawyer Ashok Saraogi claims that perhaps Agarwal may not even be aware of the subsequent rights. He even doubts whether Chhapaak [2020] producers Fox Star Studios even bothered to take the rights

By Mayur Lookhar

Ashok Saraogi (l) and Rakesh Bharti during a press conference on 4 January in Mumbai

Screenwriter, filmmaker Rakesh Bharti has moved court against producers of Chhapaak [2020] claiming to own the sole right to the Laxmi Agarwal story. Fox Star Studios and director Meghna Gulzar’s story is inspired by the life of acid attack victim and activist Laxmi Agarwal.   While Bharti has dragged Fox Star Studios, Gulzar, Deepika Padukone and five other entities, he hasn’t filed a complaint against Laxmi Agarwal or her partner Alok Dixit.

“My fight is for the copyright. I am not fighting Laxmi. It is her wish to get her film told through anyone. But she should have taken an No Objection Certificate from me. She has suffered enough. She has been misguided,” Bharti said during the press conference in Mumbai on 4 January.

We asked Bharti’s lawyer Ashok Saraogi whether not attaching Agarwal in their suit weakens their case?

‘No, she may be a good witness for us confirming that she had assigned the rights to us. Subsequent assignment of rights perhaps may not be in her knowledge.  We are not sure if they [Fox Star Studios, Meghna Gulzar] have even taken the rights,” replied Saraogi.

Bharti stated that he got the story idea after reading about Agarwal walking on the ramp. He had approached Agarwal’s former partner Dixit in 2014 who had liked the idea of a documentary and also a feature film on Agarwal. On 23 February, 2015, Bharti had registered the film title as Black Day with Indian Motion Pictures Producers’ Association. In 2016, Bharti registered his bound script with Film Writer’s Association.

In 2014, Bharti had got in touch with Parth Arora, former Head – Film Productions, Fox Star Studios. who had then directed him to contact Rukmini Sen, former content head, Fox Star Studios.  [Sen was Associate Vice President at Fox Star Studios from January 2014 to May 2015]

Bharti claimed that Sen had agreed to co-produce the film if they [Fox Star Studios] managed to get a top heroine.  After Sen left Fox Star Studios, he received no communication from the studio.

It was only in 2017, when he learnt of Fox Star Studios making the film with Meghna Gulzar as the director. Bharti sent an email to Gulzar which went unanswered.  

“I’d written to Meghna Gulzar reminding her that I hold the rights to Agarwal’s story and we should perhaps jointly produce it.  However, she never replied. Then, I got a call from Alok Dixit who asked me why I was contacting Meghna.  I told him how could they give the rights to two people. He should have taken an NOC from me. He simply said they have got a bigger opportunity.”

Saraogi claimed that his client had contacted production units of Deepika Padukone and others, who took a copy of Bharti’s script from him on the pretext that if they liked the film, then they will co-produce it.  However, they allegedly never returned to him and one day announced their film Chhapaak [2020] on the same subject.   

Apart from sharing print out of e-mails with Dixit and a few others, Bharti shared a document from Agarwal’s NGO Chhanv Foundation which allotted rights to a documentary and a feature film to Bharti. Both were to be co-produced by his firm Orange Room Productions and Indian Cinema Fund Studios.  The document bears the signature of Chhanv director, Laxmi Agarwal.

Copy of Chhanv Foundation alloting rights to Rakesh Bharti

Bharti and his lawyer claimed that after seeing the promos of Chhapaak [2020], they found scenes similar to the one in Bharti’s script. which the writer had e-mailed to Sen.  It must be noted though that Sen had left Fox Star Studios in 2015. As per a document shared by Bharti, his script was registered with Film Writers’ Association on 30 May, 2016.

Bharti is not seeking monetary compensation, but only wants a story credit.

So far Fox Star Studios, Meghna Gulzar haven’t commented on the matter.

Bharti has filed two cases, one at Bombay High Court and one at Borivali court. The matter will come up for hearing in Bombay High Court on 7 January, while Bharti’s petition will be heard in Borivali Court on 9 January.

Chhapaak is slated to be released on 10 January.

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