Delhi High Court refuses to stay film on SSR: ‘Artistic freedom to create fictional works cannot be controlled’

The Hon’ble High Court of Delhi recently refused to stay the release of film ‘Nyay: The Justice’, which is based on the death of Bollywood actor Late Sushant Singh Rajput observing that “artistic freedom to create fictional works cannot be controlled.”

Hon’ble Justice Sanjeev Narula dismissed the plea in CS(COMM) 187/2021 filed by Rajput’s father, KK Singh, who sought a stay on several films slated to be made on the late actor’s life.

The Hon’ble Court said that the artistic freedom to create fictional works cannot be controlled, limited, or confined within set boundaries. An artist’s inspiration can come from any source, and the court cannot filter real-life events. The Hon’ble Court found merit in the submission of the Defendants and held that details of the demise of SSR received widespread and protracted news coverage in all media, which are available in the public domain, and form a part of the public record. The relevant extracts from the judgement are stated as under:

42.”The Court finds merit in the contention of the Defendants that
Plaintiff’s action is belated. SSR passed away on 14th June, 2020. News on
his death was widely circulated in the media. Production of the said film was
publicly announced in August 2020. Admittedly, in September, 2020,
Plaintiff’s counsel made a public statement that, “no film, serial etc. shall be
allowed on Plaintiff’s son without Plaintiff’s consent”. Defendant No. 1-3
have filed numerous documents to show that the said film was being
publicized and promoted since August, 2020. Therefore, Plaintiff ought to
have been aware that these Defendants were in the process of producing the
said film as early as September, 2020. Plaintiff has filed the present suit
close to the release of the said film, after substantial time, money and effort
have been expended by Defendant No. 1-3 on production and promotion.
For this reason, the balance of convenience lies entirely in favour of the

43. On the aspect of irreparable loss, we may note that the suit is not
premised as a tortious action for defamation. It is founded on the basis of
breach of celebrity/publicity rights inhering to the Plaintiff. It is thus opined
that if an interim order is granted, it would be difficult to compensate the
Defendants in the event Plaintiff ultimately does not succeed in the suit.
Whereas, the Plaintiff can always re-apply at a later juncture for injunction,
if there is a change in circumstances after the release of the said film, and
has an adequate remedy of being compensated by award of damages, if the
Plaintiff proves in trial that the celebrity/publicity rights were inheritable
and inured to him exclusively. To ensure that, the Defendants are directed to
render complete and true accounts of the revenue earned from the films by
way of sale/licensing of all rights relating to the films.”

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