Delhi High Court Rejects Plea to Halt OTT Streaming of Shamshera, Starring Ranbir Kapoor, Saying There is No Monopoly Over Ideas

A filmmaker has filed a lawsuit alleging copyright infringement, stating that Shamshera is a parody of his work. The Court dismissed a request for temporary relief, pointing out that Bollywood frequently uses father-son themes, historical dramas, etc.

Filmmaker Bikramjeet Singh Bhullar’s request for an interim order to halt the streaming or broadcasting of Shamshera, starring Ranbir Kapoor, on Over-The-Top (OTT) platforms, was recently denied by the Delhi High Court.

Bhullar filed a lawsuit against Yash Raj Films and other parties, claiming that Yash Raj had violated his copyright by using his work “Kabu Na Chhadein Khet” as the basis for the Shamshera’s plot and theme.

After noting that Bhullar had attempted to assert a monopoly over themes like a period drama, a father-son story in which the two are alike, the use of children, birds, hot oil, horses, underground tunnels, and a plot centered on the son’s rebellion and retaliation against a foreign invasion, Justice Jyoti Singh denied the plea.

The Court noted that these elements are present in the majority of Bollywood films and that, should it rule in favor of Bhullar, it would grant an exclusive right to ideas—a notion that is at odds with long-standing legal doctrines.

The High Court came to the conclusion that there is no discernible similarity between Bhullar’s script and Shamshera’s when comparing the two.

“No relief can be granted in favor of the Plaintiff injuncting the Defendants from continuing with the telecast of their film on the OTT Platforms, as Plaintiff Bhullar has not been able to establish a prima facie case of copyright infringement,” the Court concluded.

Bhullar had gone to the High Court, claiming that he had had the idea for an 18th-century period drama about 2006 or so. The 2009 version of Kabu Na Chhadein Khet was trimmed down to a 10-minute cinematography short. The late actor Om Puri provided a voice over for the movie, which was also screened at the Spinning Wheel Film Festival in Toronto.

He said he was in contact with Shamshera’s writers and directors, who expressed interest in his work. But in January 2017, he received word that they were not going to collaborate with him.

Bhullar claimed that his work had been heavily imitated and altered when the trailer for the movie Shamshera was posted on YouTube in June 2022. He therefore requested relief from the Court.

According to his argument, the similarities between the two works are that they are both period dramas with active protagonists and renowned antagonists, underdogs, North Indian settings, and a focus on oppression.

Both tales, according to Bhullar’s attorney, feature enslavement, retaliation, and two father-son generations. The use of birds, hot water, burning oil, the North star for navigation, and underground tunnels were commonalities. The Court was informed that the antagonists in both stories are savage, foreign invaders who pillage and plunder the village as the heroes struggle for their freedom.

It was also claimed that there were similarities between the themes of a father dying and his son continuing the family legacy, and emphasis was placed on the fact that the main characters in both works were initially evil individuals who eventually had a change of heart.

Because the film is a period drama, the defendants—Yash Raj, the producers, and the writers—argued that the story cannot be protected by copyright and that ideas, themes, or plots cannot be protected by copyright.

After viewing the film Shamshera and analyzing Bhullar’s script, the Court concluded that there are more differences than similarities between Bhullar’s script and the movie. The Court concluded that similarities by themselves did not, at this time, raise a presumption of copyright infringement.

“Comparison of locations set in North India, as rightly contended by the Defendants, cannot be a ground to hold infringement of copyright and similarly features such as burning oil, water, birds, star for the purpose of navigation, secret underwater tunnels horses, ghaghra and its unswirling, sensuous scenes etc., have been used in movies from times immemorial and very many movies come to mind on this aspect readily and are hackneyed subjects of almost every fiction and matters of common grasp. There is no uniqueness in these ideas or expression and in the words of the judgements of this Court, almost every author of a fiction would conjure them as consequential concomitant effects, as a matter of common grasp and “Scenes a Faire” which carry no copyright,” the Court observed.

It also mentioned that Bollywood is “most common” for having “generation-spanning” father-son films.

“As properly argued on behalf of the Defendants, the story’s central theme—Kartar’s resistance to the Afghan invasions—is not the character of Shamsher Singh in the script. Despite the fact that in one of the plots a treaty is signed between the British and Shamshera for which Khameran had to pay the price of freedom, he does not carry on his father’s legacy. The father’s character plays a major role in the film, even though it isn’t given much attention or significance in the script, the Court added.

The Court found that there was no prima facie case made out in support of Bhullar, that Yash Raj would not suffer irreversible harm in the event that an injunction was denied, and that there was also a balance of convenience in favor of Bhullar.

As a result, Bhullar’s request for temporary relief was denied. January 16, 2024 is the next listed date for the main suit.

Bikramjeet Singh Bhullar v Yash Raj Films & Ors

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