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To be honest, I am scared, says Kunal Kohli

DECCAN CHRONICLE | SUBHASH K. JHA
Published Jul 24, 2015, 5:45 am IST
Updated Mar 28, 2019, 10:56 am IST
‘I couldn’t afford to keep fighting a legal battle’
Director Kunal Kohli
 Director Kunal Kohli

He has had to pay Rs 25 lakh to writer Jyoti Kapoor for alleged copyright infringement, but filmmaker Kunal Kohli maintains that he was not in the wrong. “There wasn’t much else I could do. The honourable Supreme Court, in all its wisdom, gave us the option of a settlement. I settled But please understand that the courts imposed no stay order on my film Phir Se,” Kunal said.

But doesn’t paying up imply that Jyoti Kapoor, the complainant, was right?
Kunal disagreed. “No, not at all. The earlier High Court verdict stands. Neither the High Court nor the Supreme Court said there was any infringement. But a legal battle can go on for a very long time. The honourable judges said I was free to release my film and let the case go on in the High Court. I didn’t want to go through the rigmarole of court hearings and lawyer’s fees. The courts have many far more important matters to attend to than an alleged case of plagiarism,” he said.

Is this a good precedent?
Kunal may have vehemently fought against the copyright-infringement charge, but won’t the monetary settlement encourage other writers to similarly come forward with copyright claims? Kunal said, “The case lingered on till my film’s release. I couldn’t afford to keep fighting a legal battle. Neither can other filmmakers who have been similarly taken to court — ask Ram Gopal Varma, Mukesh Bhatt and Habib Faisal.”

Kunal added that he isn’t saying that writers are not within their rights in claiming copyright infringement. “Writers do become victims of plagiarism. But not this time. Renuka Kunzru wrote Break Ke Baad for me. She got full credit. Shibani Bathija wrote Fanaah for me. Did she have any problem with me?”

Moving on
Now, Kunal says he will think twice before entertaining a writer. “To be honest, I am scared. I will first have a new writer/lyricist/composer sit down with my team of lawyers so that they don’t drag me to court later. Anyways, I am moving on. Both the honourable High Court and the Supreme Court had made it clear there would be no stay order on my film. It was Jyoti Kapoor’s lawyer who proposed a settlement. And there the matter ended.”

 

The background story: Scriptwriter Jyoti Kapoor sued Kunal Kohli for “copyright violation and breach of confidence”. After an eight-month battle that went from industry associations to the High Court and then the Supreme Court, the SC finally ruled this Monday that there were similarities between the plot of Kunal’s under-production film Phir Se and Jyoti’s script titled RSVP. The court has ruled that Kunal pay Jyoti `25 lakh in compensation, in addition to giving her credit for the story/idea.

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The other side...

(As told by Jyoti Kapoor to Reena Kapoor)

 

My agents had approached Kunal Kohli at the onset with a bound script. It wasn’t an idea or a rough draft. It was a detailed script. Having co-written films like Yash Raj Films’ Daawat-E-Ishq, I had an understanding of how to go about pitching your script. Fortunately, I had registered every bit of the script with the Film Writers Association. Kunal liked the script and agreed to produce it. Of course, I was extremely happy because a known filmmaker had agreed to direct a film penned by me. But I sensed that something wrong when he asked me to change few scenes. It then came to a point when he announced that he’d take the first credit for writing the script and that I would have to settle for the second. I wasn’t happy with that arrangement. That became a bone of contention between us.

 

A lot of publications carried his version of the story and didn’t even bother to check with me. I understand that he is a bigger name but there is always another side to a story. There is a reason why the honourable judge has passed the verdict in my favour. Not many are aware that the High Court judge had read the script and watched the film in totality before passing the judgement. Above all, I have all interactions between Kunal and me on email as records. Yes, he had to pay and also give me credit for my work. My battle wasn’t with him but with the entire system. I have spent `12 lakh in the process. There are so many other writers who have to go through similar stress. I didn’t give up because I had guidance from people in the industry who are aware of the legalities. Why would the court pass a judgment in my favour if I was wrong? I’ve worked with utmost sincerity and I have walked out of this with my head held high. I won’t be scared to pitch my scripts to other filmmakers because I have nothing to hide. Not everyone you meet is the same.

 

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