It seems to have become a norm in India these days to rake up some controversy before a film’s release. It is almost always either intellectual property (copyright or trademark) violation or defamation. This time apparently it is both!

Gulaab Gang is a Hindi film which apparently deals with social injustices met with Indian women and how a group of eponymous pink sari-clad women fight back against these injustices. The movie has been inspired (though vehemently disputed) by a very much real group of women called “Gulabi gang” in Uttar Pradesh. These women led by Sampat Pal Devi fight back social injustices meted out on girls and women in villages in and around their place. It is rumoured that these vigilantes beat up men with sticks until those men stop harassing (read domestic violence) their spouses.

She knows her rights

The Gulabi gang’s activities have been a topic of some films and documentaries before so Sampat Pal is not new to having her life or activities documented. It is evident from news reports since late 2012 that Sampat Pal was not happy about having a movie made on her gang even though it stars Madhuri Dixit as the protagonist (the character allegedly based on Sampat Pal). In her various interviews (see here for instance) since then, Sampat Pal has made it inescapably clear that she would “stall” the film’s release since the filmmakers did not seek her permission before filming nor did Madhuri Dixit actually meet her before playing a character based on her in the film.

She has also been vocal in her resentment of how she is generally portrayed negatively by the media. It is surprising however that Sampat Pal has been well-aware of her rights. Recognising defamation is understandable. Anyone with their reputation at stake would. What surprises me though and is definitely praiseworthy is her precise awareness of her intellectual property rights. It is evident from her interviews (unless the journalists have been embellishing her language since Sampat Pal speaks only Hindi and the interviews are published in English) that she understands that “pink sari” is her gang’s trademark and that she has a right over her gang’s name. Although I am not sure, I chalk it up to prior experience in being filmed.

What’s all the hoo-ha about?

Apart from her general displeasure about the film, Gulaab gang, she took objection to the fact that the film portrayed her and her gang as women who resort to violence using sickles and scythes i.e., in bad light. From the news reports, it seems like the filmmakers and Sampat Pal had been trying to reach a settlement which probably did not favour her and she filed a case in the Delhi High Court on grounds of defamation and intellectual property violation.

On March 5, 2014, the Delhi High Court disallowed “releasing, exhibiting, distributing and promoting” the film in censored or uncensored form until next hearing which was appointed on May 8, 2014.

On March 6, 2014, the producers appealed. The appeal was decided against Sampat Pal and now the film is set to release today, i.e., March 7, 2014. Quite a lot of drama in two consecutive days and just before the movie was set to hit the theatres.

In the appeal, the Court ordered that the film contain a disclaimer to the effect that it has nothing to do with Sampat Pal or her life and gang. The Court also opined that Sampat Pal could seek monetary relief. This opinion is in line with judicial precedents where pre-publication injunction have not been granted if the remedy of damages i.e., monetary relief, were available.

Thoughts corner

I have been trying to get a copy of the interim order restraining the film’s release and the order pursuant to the appeal with no luck. I am more than a little baffled by the whole drama. It is not immediately clear if Sampat Pal decided that the movie was defamatory based on the movie posters and promotional clips alone. Was she offered a chance to view the movie before the whole case? If not, then why not?

The producers have obviously been inspired by her gang and their activities. Why do they not acknowledge her for it and give her credit? Why deny unabashedly in court that it was not inspired by her life when they had the actors of the movie pretty much admit to it during promotional campaigns and filming?

Well, today when the film hits the theatres, there will, at least, be a bunch of curious people who will want to watch the movie just for the ruckus around it irrespective of whether they like Madhuri Dixit or Juhi Chawla (the actor who plays the antagonist in the movie).

As they say, any publicity is good publicity.

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