Bollywood films these days receive as much publicity with promotional appearances as much as with legal troubles. The latest one to land in a legal soup is Vishal Bhardwaj’s Rangoon starring Shahid Kapoor, Saif Ali Khan and Kangana Ranaut.
Film production firm Wadia Movietone Pvt. Ltd. (Wadia) has filed a commercial suit against the filmmaker and others in the Mumbai High Court for copyright infringement. The central ground of filing the suit is that Kangana’s character Julia is based on Australian stunt actress Mary Evans, who was known by her screen name Fearless Nadia.
Wadia holds sole rights to scripts, posters and publicity material for Fearless Nadia films produced by it.
The makers of Rangoon have infringed their copyright by replicating Fearless Nadia’s costumes, poses, even a catch phrase – Nadia was synonymous with the use of, “Bloody Hell!”
One of the most popular songs of the film is titled Bloody Hell and is based on Kangana which has shed more light on her character in the film.
Wadia, who is MD of the firm and JBH Wadia’s grandson, says the makers have carried out a breach of trust. It was back in 2006 that Wadia approached Ronnie Screwvala of UTV to make a film on Nadia. Things didn’t materialise, but news emerged of UTV and Vishal making a similar film. The two clarified to Wadia that it was called Julia, and it didn’t have links to Nadia’s story. Later, through media reports, he learnt the project had been shelved.
Then when news of making of Rangoon came out Vishal assured Wadia, says the petition, that it was a love story set in the 1940s against war but didn’t draw on Nadia’s character in any way.
But, as soon as the trailer was released, Wadia realized that Julia was based on Nadia. Wadia’s counsel Priyanka Khamani confirmed the news, saying, “We have filed a commercial suit. The matter comes up for hearing on February 20.”
A member of the film’s cast, requesting anonymity, said, “Kangana was advised to watch ‘Hunterwali’ [a famous 1935 Nadia stunt film], and the stylists told to reference her dressing for Kangana, who plays Julia. Some of the male characters also resemble those from Nadia’s life.”
Here’s what director Priyanka Khamani has to say:
Rangoon director Vishal Bhardwaj filed a detailed reply in court yesterday. A short excerpt of his affidavit, which is in hitlist’s possession, reads, “The film is essentially a love story set in the early 1940s, during the tumultuous period of World War 2, between an actress, an Indian patriot /freedom fighter and a film actor/ producer. The film is based in the backdrop of the Indian Freedom Movement. The Freedom Movement, World War II and the ensuing love triangle involving the above-mentioned three lead protagonists are the most critical aspects of the film. The idea for the script of film was first conceived by Matthew Robbins, way back in 2005. In the same year, research for the film’s script and work to prepare the script started in Mussoorie and Assam subsequently. The script of the film has been in development since 2005, jointly by Robbins, me and Sabrina Dhawan, who came on board as co-writer in 2015.
Till then, the film underwent several iterations and was completely overhauled over the past few years. The acclaimed writer, Mr Amitav Ghosh, who is known for his proficiency in historical fiction, was consulted for the script in 2016 in Manipur. The script on which the film is based is registered with the Film Writers Association in 2016… The character of Julia is a composite of several leading ladies of that era and not on the film actress Nadia. The said actress has been independently sketched and fleshed out based on years of research by the team of writers working on the film (sic).”