Bollywood hits back with lawsuit over smear campaign

Policemen are seen on June 14 near an ambulance carrying the body of Bollywood actor Sushant Singh Rajput outside the building where he lived in Mumbai. (Files/AP)
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Updated 14 October 2020

Bollywood hits back with lawsuit over smear campaign

  • Film industry files case against 2 major news channels after several weeks of ‘slander’

PATNA: In an unprecedented move by the Hindi film industry on Monday, 38 of its top producers filed a lawsuit against two prominent news channels, accusing them of slander and asking them to refrain from “irresponsible, derogatory and defamatory remarks against Bollywood and its members.”

This follows several allegations by Republic TV and Times Now after the suspected suicide of actor Sushant Singh Rajput on June 14.

The case, which continues to be investigated, led to several rounds of speculation by both media houses, accusing prominent filmmakers of nepotism and promoting drug abuse. A section of the influential media, with the support of dissenting voices from Bollywood such as actress Kangana Ranaut, was also accused of a vicious vilification campaign against the film industry, calling it a “den of debauchery, drugs, womanizing” and other vices.

Both news channels had also reported that many Bollywood celebrities were part of a drug mafia, which Rajput had fallen prey to, eventually driving him to commit suicide.

The allegations are being probed by the Narcotics Control Bureau, India’s federal agency.

However, despite the spree of allegations, several producers and directors such as Karan Johar and Aditya Chopra, who were named in the smear campaign, had chosen to keep mum — until now.

Dozens of Bollywood producers and production house owners, including Johar, Chopra, Sajid Nadiadwala, Farhan Akhtar, Aamir Khan, Shah Rukh Khan and Ajay Devgan, filed a lawsuit in the New Delhi High Court on Monday, in a significant retaliatory move.

When contacted by Arab News on Tuesday, Johar declined to comment. 

However, producer-director Hansal Mehta said it was “about time our film industry took action against the constant name-calling.”

“Better late than never,” he added.

Producer-director Sudhir Mishra, who has spent a “large part” of his adult life working in the film industry, said he was “deeply mortified” by the tone of the slander being used. 

“I come from a family of educationists. I gave up studying psychology or practicing clinical psychology in favor of being a filmmaker. I haven’t regretted my decision even once in the last 35 years. Mumbai welcomes and respects talent, no matter where it comes from. To accuse the city and Bollywood of illicit practices is terribly wrong,” he said.

In addition to prominent producers, the Producers Guild of India and the Cine and TV Artiste Association (CINTAA) were also named as plaintiffs in the lawsuit, which was issued by leading law firm DSK Legal. 

It pleads for the defendants to be barred from their derogatory remarks against individuals and the Bollywood industry.

Actress Swara Bhaskara, who has been vocal against the vilification campaign from the onset, said she welcomed the move.

“It’s a most welcome move. During the last few months, the way we’ve seen our film industry vilified by two channels, Times Now and Republic TV, is shameful and irresponsible, as much of their campaign was based on salacious rumors and hearsay. A lot of the accusations were inaccurate and defamatory,” she told Arab News.

Bhaskara added that while Bollywood had its blind spots, labeling the entire industry as “evil” was wrong. 

“There are plenty of hardworking actors and technicians. You can’t write them off as undesirable just to be newsy and sensational. Everyone’s livelihood was affected by this smear campaign. It is so heartening to see all production houses, big and small, joining hands to fight for their reputation,” she said, adding that the lawsuit’s demands were “reasonable.”

“It’s not saying the two offending channels should be gagged. The lawsuit asks for the channels to be prevented from badmouthing our film industry. That’s only reasonable.”

Meanwhile, a statement released by the CINTAA said the association “thought it was befitting to break its silence in retaliation to those who are out to defame and slander its members.”

“The industry, for the larger part, is a safe haven and yes, we would be the first to acknowledge that like in any other sector, there may exist some bad elements, and by recognizing and weeding them out, we are constantly looking to improve ourselves. However, the exuberance showcased by some anchors to capture eyeballs is outrageous, and [their claims are] without any hard evidence. We deeply condemn such impetuous topics of debate that tarnish the image of a whole community,” it said.

Media guru Pritish Nandy agreed and added that the “unfounded attack” on the industry had “malicious” intent.

“Everybody has the right to protect their reputation. And that is exactly what the film industry is trying to do. Social media and anchor tantrums on television cannot take over the life of this nation,” he told Arab News.

Nandy’s sentiments were echoed by veteran actress and politician Jaya Bachchan who had raised the issue in Parliament recently. 

“It’s time for the film industry to defend itself. If we don’t defend ourselves, who will?”

The lawsuit explicitly names four journalists — Navika Kumar, Rahul Shiv Shankar, Arnab Goswami and Pradip Bhandari — and includes, among other complaints, their usage of words such as “druggies,” “filthy,” “scummy” and “debauched,” accusing them of using persuasive speech to convince a large section of Indian viewers that the film industry was a den of vice.

And while Goswami and Kumar have declined to comment, the latter posted a tweet on Monday urging for “truth” to prevail.

“If fighting for justice invites court cases, bring it on. All the a-listers can come together but India will continue to fight for the truth. You can’t intimidate us @TimesNow & can’t take away the viewers who believe in us. Let Truth prevail.”

Iranian man arrested over deaths of family in English Channel

Updated 29 min 3 sec ago

Iranian man arrested over deaths of family in English Channel

  • He faces manslaughter charges after migrant couple and two of their children drowned when the boat they were in capsized

LONDON: An Iranian man has been arrested on suspicion of manslaughter in connection with the deaths of four members of an Iranian-Kurdish family in the English Channel.

Rasoul Iran-Nejad, 35, Shiva Mohammed Panahi, 35, and their children Anita, 9, and Armin, 6, drowned on Tuesday after the boat they were in capsized as they attempted to cross the Channel from France.

Their 15-month-old son, Artin, and two people are still missing. An official from the French coastguard said there is no hope of finding any more survivors, after a search-and-rescue operation in “unfavorable” conditions was called off on Tuesday night.

The Iranian suspect was allegedly piloting the semi-rigid vessel, which was carrying 22 people from the Grande-Synthe migrant camp near Dunkirk, according to the UK’s Guardian newspaper. Dunkirk prosecutor Sebastien Pieve said the man was arrested after survivors who were taken to hospital gave statements to police.

“He told us he was just a migrant but the information we have gathered against him, notably from 13 others who were interviewed, suggests that he is close to the smugglers and his claims do not stand up,” Pieve said.

The man, who is in provisional custody, is under investigation and faces charges of involuntary homicide, endangering the lives of other people, helping “illegals” as part of an organized gang, and criminal association, according to reports. If convicted, he could be jailed for up to 10 years and be deported from France after serving his sentence.

Pieve said an aim of the police inquiries is to dismantle the smuggling ring responsible for the people being on the vessel.

A growing number of migrants are attempting risky journeys across the Channel in small, dangerous vessels provided by smugglers because of a reduction in the number of commercial sea crossings between the UK and France as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

More than 7,400 migrants have crossed the Channel so far this year, compared with about 1,800 during the whole of 2019, according to Press Association calculations.