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HC stays I release, orders state-wide hunt for original author, if any

Shankar welcomes the stay, saying it will help maintain secrecy of film

Chennai: In an interesting, but inevitable turn of events, the Madras High Court today, suo motu, ordered interim stay on the release of director Shankar and actor Vikram’s film I and issued notices to the State police to investigate and bring to light ‘within seven working days’ any ‘claimant’ to being the ‘original author’ of the film’s story.

The Madras High Court granted this forward-looking stay unilaterally, taking smart cognisance of the recent plethora of cases in which several high-profile movies, including Rajnikanth’s Lingaa and Vijay’s Kaththi, had run into last-minute hurdles over their release, buffeted as they were by claims from random writers that the films’ (respective) stories had been plagiarised from their works.

The case of Lingaa was the most interesting as there were couple of claimants to the film’s story. And the film could be released only after the producer agreed to give an emergency surety of Rs.10 crores. Post its release, however, it has become quite clear that if ever there was a strong case for plagiarism Lingaa is the one, and the film director Ravikumar has good grounds to sue himself for brazenly lifting story from Muthu and Padayappa that he had directed earlier.

The Kaththi issue was more long-drawn out and messy. The appellant had two tasks: First, the most difficult one of proving that a Vijay film had a story to begin with. Second, the relatively easy point of establishing that it was his story.

The case was eventually settled by the commonsense logic of — this is how most important matters are resolved these days — moving on to other controversies.

Back to the chase, the Madras High Court, which saw a pattern in high-profile films running into authorship troubles, obviously did not want to be caught napping anymore.

‘Why wait till the eleventh-hour for what can be accomplished by 10.45 or even 10.30 has been the spirit of the Indian constitution. Taking those compelling cues, we feel there are merits in this court proactively stepping in this matter. We could clearly feel that there is someone, somewhere preparing a petition claiming authorship for story of the film I. Why agonisingly wait for him to out himself? We can agonise by looking out for him ourselves’, the court said and ordered the State police to launch a manhunt and find out within seven court working days (15 days in normal human calendar) any claimant to the film’s story.

The court also granted a forward-looking interim stay on the film’s release and, importantly, said that it was referring the matter to a larger Constitutional Bench to decide whether all Tamil films in future will ‘by default have a stay pending against them’ till authorship issues are resolved.

Reacting to the developments, director Shankar welcomed the stay on the film, saying that it would help maintain secrecy on the movie. ‘I actually wish that the honourable court had granted a permanent stay as opposed to an interim one, as that would stop the secrets of the film ever coming out’. Shankar has so far directed 15 films, but released only 10 of them while keeping totally mum on five of them. Nobody knows who acted in them, when they were shot etc. That is how secretive he is.

For I, Shankar has joined hands with blockbuster producer ‘Aascar’ Ravichandran, whose photograph has not even once appeared in the media, triggering speculation that Ravichandran himself could actually be a Shankar film in the making.

Elsewhere, responding to the developments in the court and the possibility that all Tamil films in the future could come with factory-built court stay, the Nadigar Sangam, the apex body of all film artists, said that it would welcome the court ruling once someone helpfully tells what it is all about. The Sangam president, however, said ‘we are anyway issuing a show cause notice to actor Vishal in this matter seeking him to clarify his position first’, which, of course, is the default response of the Sangam in all matters till eternity.

(Disclaimer: The cover story in coming week’s Kumudham: Original writer of Ennai Arindhal is a fan of Thala’s briyani)