The Madras High Court on Thursday cleared the decks for the release of film director Gautham Vasudev Menon’s web series Queen, a ‘fictional’ rendition based on the life of former Chief Minister Jayalalithaa.
The court refused to pass an interim injunction restraining the release of the web series starring Ramya Krishnan.
Justice Senthilkumar Ramamoorthy also rejected a plea by Jayalalithaa’s niece J. Deepa to injunct the release of Thalaivi, a biopic being directed by A.L. Vijay and produced by Hyderabad-based Vishnu Vardhan Induri, with Kangana Ranaut playing the lead role. The biopic had gone on floors only recently.
Ms. Deepa had filed a civil suit against the filmmakers and insisted that they should not be allowed to release their works without her express consent. She claimed that her right to privacy as well as her aunt’s will get infringed if the filmmakers were allowed to release the biopic and the web series without her express consent.
The judge agreed with the petitioner that she clearly and indubitably had both a fundamental right and a common law right regarding her privacy. However, he pointed out that Mr. Vijay and Mr. Induri had given an undertaking on oath before the court that not a single scene in their works will depict the petitioner.
Similarly, Mr. Menon had told the court that his entire web series was a fictional rendition, and therefore, such an undertaking was not warranted. Nevertheless, on balance of convenience, the judge directed him to ensure that no character closely resembling Ms. Deepa was depicted in the web series until the disposal of the main civil suit.
In so far as her assertion of posthumous privacy rights on behalf of her aunt was concerned, the judge said, “The applicant is not a near relative of former Chief Minister i.e., she is not a daughter or even a member of the same household. In such circumstances, one has to test, for interlocutory purposes, her asserted right to prior restraint of web series.”
Observing that the right claimed by the petitioner had to be weighed against the filmmakers’ right to freedom of expression, Justice Ramamoorthy said: “The assertion that her aunt’s life story cannot be told without including her role in it could be brushed aside as ingenuous, and in any event, it cannot be said that she has an actionable right to insist on being included as a character in the web serial.”
He rejected the argument that any descendant was entitled to enforce prior restraint rights. “In my view, if that principle was to be applied, agnates and cognates would emerge and sound the death knell for freedom of expression,” the judge said, adding that issues revolving around posthumous exercise of right to privacy could be decided only during final disposal of the suit.
Assertion of such rights was tenuous and amorphous at the present stage, he said. “If an interim order is granted, it would be difficult to compensate the filmmakers in case they succeed in the suit, whereas the applicant can always re-apply at a later juncture if there is a change in circumstances on the basis of the first series of episodes of the web series,” the judge said.
He directed the makers of Thalaivi to adhere to their undertaking that all precautions will be taken not to cause any social stigma to the petitioner. Further, Mr. Menon was ordered to adhere to his commitment to carry a disclaimer that his was a work of fiction and any resemblance to real persons was coincidental and not intentional.