New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Thursday dismissed a plea seeking stay on the release of Bollywood movie Gangubai Kathiawadi. The Alia Bhatt-starrer, produced by Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Bhansali Production Private Ltd, is scheduled for release on Friday.
A bench of Justices Indira Banerjee and J K Maheswari dismissed the plea of Babuji Rawji Shah, who claims to be the adopted son of Gangubai, against the Bombay High Court’s order declining him various reliefs such as interim stay on the release of the movie. “SLP dismissed. Reasons to follow,” the bench said.
At the outset, senior advocate A Sundaram, appearing for the filmmakers, told the bench that it would practically not be possible to change the name of the movie, as suggested by it, as they will have to go to the censor board again.
He submitted that there cannot be an objection to the naming of the film as censor certificate has been given to the movie.
He questioned the locus of the petitioner and said that Shah claims to be the adopted son of Gangubai without evidence. “There is no basis for adoption. Person is claiming to be the adopted son and there’s no prima facie evidence. He is a third party and he has only shown a ration card to prove his claim. Not even a whisper of proof of the same apart from ration card,” Sundaram said.
The senior lawyer further said that nothing prima facie has been shown to the court to prove there is anything defamatory in the movie. Sundaram said the entire case is premised on a book based on 2011 which they didn’t consider challenging at that time. “The book was “The Mafia Queens of Bombay”. Our film glorifies the lady as to what she has accomplished,” he said.
There are judgements to show that the right of defamation dies with a person’s death, Sundaram said.
“When I produce a film of a public figure who died 40 years ago, we are trying to show how great a lady she was. I am praising her more if she lived in a red light area & achieved great height,” he submitted.
The bench then asked, “What if there are sensibilities in the family?”
Sundaram replied that they are not family.
Senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi, also appearing for the filmmakers, contended that the movie is not derogatory at all and the character Gangubai has been glorified as to how she rose from a background and became an activist.
“We have certification of the film, it’s set to release. It’s out of our hands actually,” he said.
Rohatgi also questioned the timing of the petition and asked, “Why is there a gap of nine months challenging the Bombay High Court judgment?
Advocate Rakesh Singh, appearing for the petitioner, argued that defamation not only affects the person, but family members as well. “They say the movie is in the book and if the book is defamatory then the movie is defamatory…The book says that she was having an affair and then she was pushed into a brothel in Kamathipura. The promo also depicts this…Dialogue in the movie is also defamatory to the victim.”
The bench then said that he will have to establish a strong prima facie case on locus standi and merits of the case.
Shah had earlier moved the high court seeking an order restraining the writers/publishers of the novel from creating any third-party rights or writing any other story on the life of his mother (Gangubai Kathiawadi). He had also sought a stay on release of the movie ‘Gangubai Kathiawadi’.
The high court, in its order passed on July 30 last year, had rejected the application noting that any content of defamatory nature dies with that person’s death. “It is for the appellant (Shah) to demonstrate that he is the adoptive son of deceased Gangubai Kathiawadi, which he has prima facie failed to do,” the high court had said, adding that in a case of claim for defamation, action can be brought by a person in Court of law provided he claimed to be defamed.
Merely because the Appellant is claiming to be son of such person cannot be prima facie inferred to have the legal right to show indulgence, the high court had said.
Prior to this, a lower court had rejected the defamation lawsuit of Shah leading to filing of an appeal in the high court which also refused to grant any interim relief to him.