Well, this is satisfying! And answers a question I have been wondering about, what are the libel laws available in India?
Saturday was Mental Health Awareness Day, which reminded me of something that I think is a good example for why this law suit is important. Over a year ago I think, on this blog, someone in the comments mentioned that she was shocked by an anonymous reddit post she read by someone claiming to be part of a PR team that had worked with Deepika, and implying that Deepika did not actually suffer from depression but it was all a PR scam. This really bothered me. On several levels. First, that an anonymous reddit commentator is believed ahead of a public figure who has put her name and face out there and told her truth. Second, that something so illogically horrible as to lie about being mentally ill (in a culture where mental illness is considered a stain on the whole family) was easily believed, about anyone. And third that, on some level, people WANTED to believe it. Wanted to think that the public figure was a liar and the anonymous internet person was telling the truth, about everything.
This is why this lawsuit matters. When I started watching Hindi films, 16 years ago, this would never have been believed. Or, if it was, it would have resulted in cheerful jokes and not anger. Movie stars were movie stars, you gossiped about their personal life, laughed at their scandals, treated them as entertaining people there to be discussed and enjoyed. Now, movie stars are the enemy, they are there to be torn down, destroyed, their ugly “truth” revealed.
That didn’t happen overnight, and it didn’t happen because of the tragic death of Sushant Singh Rajput. There has been a public campaign against the Hindi film industry for years. I’m not necessarily saying a conspiracy theory (although of course the BJP funded social media attacks on the three Khans is a reality). But Hate sells, and Movie Stars sell, and combine the two, and you’ve really got something.
There’s a kind of shortsighted self-destruction at play here. The Media gets more attention by their stories on Hindi film than anything else. But if they succeed in tearing down the industry and turning the audience against it, then there won’t be any Hindi film any more and they won’t have anything to report on. That’s what has always been the protection in the past, the media would go just so far and no farther, there was always a balance between the Hate articles and the Love articles. If you want the movies to keep flowing and the audience to keep coming, you can’t go too far.
That’s what this lawsuit is about. It is beyond proving “truth” or “lies”, it is assuming that everything is lies. What it is saying is that those lies are recklessly damaging. The industry is suffering enormously because of what is being spewed out on media channels and taken up and repeated on social media. If the film industry goes away, thousands of people will be out of work and India as a whole will suffer a massive loss in “soft power” as the main international identity of the country is taken away.
Today, a civil suit has been filed before the Hon’ble Delhi High Court by four Bollywood industry associations and thirty-four leading Bollywood producers praying the Hon’ble Court direct Republic TV, Mr. Arnab Goswami and Mr. Pradeep Bhandari of Republic TV, Times Now, Mr. Rahul Shivshankar and Ms. Navika Kumar of Times Now, and unknown defendants as well as social media platforms to refrain from making or publishing irresponsible, derogatory and defamatory remarks against Bollywood as a whole and members of Bollywood, and to restrain them from conducting media trials of Bollywood personalities and interfering with the right to privacy of persons associated with Bollywood. The Plaintiffs are also praying that the Defendants abide by the provisions of the Programme Code under the Cable Television Networks Rules, 1994, and to withdraw, recall and take down all the defamatory content published by them against Bollywood.
This comes in the wake of these channels using highly derogatory words and expressions for Bollywood such as “dirt”, “filth”, “scum”, “druggies” and expressions such as “it is Bollywood where the dirt needs to be cleaned”, “all the perfumes of Arabia cannot take away the stench and the stink of this filth and scum of the underbelly of Bollywood”, “This is the dirtiest industry in the country”, and “cocaine and LSD drenched Bollywood”.
It is pleaded that Bollywood is a distinct and well recognised class, comprising the Hindi film industry in Mumbai. Since several years Bollywood is a huge source of revenue for the public exchequer, earns significant foreign exchange for India by way of revenue from overseas releases of films, tourism etc., and is a big source of employment, with various other industries also being largely dependent on it. Bollywood is unique and stands on a different footing from any other industry inasmuch as it is an industry that is dependent almost solely on goodwill, appreciation and acceptance of its audience. The livelihood of persons associated with Bollywood is being severely impacted by the smear campaign being run by the Defendants. This is in addition to the ongoing pandemic which has resulted in extreme revenues and work opportunity loss. The privacy of the members of Bollywood is being invaded, and their reputations are being irreparably damaged by painting the entire Bollywood as criminals, seeped in drug culture, and making being part of Bollywood as synonymous with criminal acts in the public imagination.https://www.bollywoodhungama.com/news/bollywood/bollywood-producers-film-associations-file-civil-suit-irresponsible-derogatory-defamatory-reporting-certain-media-houses/
Looking at the wording, this is the equivalent of someone saying “okay, you have set my movie theater on fire. I’ve given up on anyone caring that you did something morally wrong, or on quantifying the loss of life and human damage you have done. But what I can prove is that you burned down the building and therefore caused loss of money, let’s see if taking you to court for the cost of my building will do anything”.
It’s an interesting tactic, and I wonder who came up with it. Looking at the loooooooooooooong list of production houses, clearly this involved some connected person going around and talking to absolutely everybody important and getting them to sign on. And when I say “important”, I don’t mean like Karan Johar (although I am sure he signed off), I mean Karan’s college friend Apoorva Mehta who runs the day to day finances of Dharma. I’m gonna guess a few important people (not famous, important) got together in a room with lawyers and hammered out the basic idea, then each took part of the list and went around to everyone else and got them to sign on.
If the case stands, it will be a good precedent. Personal libel cases don’t seem to work, for one thing the sympathy is immediately with the defendant. Obviously the movie star is lying, just as Deepika Padukone lied about suffering from depression because someone on reddit said it. You may win the case, but you lose the public opinion shift that was the true goal. But perhaps proving actual financial damage will both cause media houses to be more cautious and help the general public to WAKE UP and see that these vendettas only hurt themselves, and that the Hindi film industry is a valuable commodity for the whole country.
Or at the very least it will remind people that these aren’t some sort of demons having sex and drugs all day, but reasonable business people just trying to run a reasonable business.