In a rare show of unity, 38 leading cinema associations and production houses of India’s Hindi cinema have joined together to sue two TV news channels for allegedly making “irresponsible, derogatory and defamatory remarks” against the film industry.
The petitioners include production houses owned by superstar actors Shah Rukh Khan, Aamir Khan and Salman Khan, and comes roughly four months after the death of actor Sushan Singh Rajput, whose apparent suicide sparked a rush of media coverage dubbed by many a “trial by media”.
Rajput’s girlfriend and fellow actor Rhea Chakraborty was arrested after his death on suspicion of supplying him with cannabis, part of a federal investigation which later expanded to explore the so-called Bollywood drugs “nexus”. Prosecutors said they intended “to uproot the drug citadel in Mumbai, especially in Bollywood”.
In the suit, the complainants sought action against the right-wing news channel Republic TV, its editor-in-chief Arnab Goswami and reporter Pradeep Bhandari, and Times Now, its editor-in-chief Rahul Shivshankar and group editor Navika Kumar.
The complainants said that “the plea 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’.
"The livelihood of persons associated with Bollywood is being severely impacted by the smear campaign being run by the defendants," the petitioners said, in the suit filed before the Delhi High Court.
The petition also takes issue with alleged invasions of privacy of Bollywood actors and staff members. Coverage of the ongoing drugs investigation has often included leaked Whatsapp messages purporting to involve major stars, including the actress Deepika Padukone who was questioned for several hours at the investigative agency’s Mumbai bureau.
Industry leaders made clear that they are not seeking a blanket ban on coverage related to the investigation into Sushant Singh Rajput’s death, but called for an injunction on the publication of any material that violates applicable laws.
Reacting to the lawsuit, bombastic Republic TV anchor Goswami told viewers: “Our pursuit of the truth will only become stronger, more intense and more focused.”
Times Now’s Shivshankar responded to the plea in a tweet saying: “The might may think they can weaken the resolve of the fearless at #TIMESNOW but they are wrong,” while Kumar said: “If fighting for justice invites court cases, bring it on."
Cases against journalists of @TIMESNOW that have only sought justice for those who are wronged are a bad precedent. The mighty may think they can weaken the resolve of the fearless at #TIMESNOW but they are wrong. @aamir_khan @ajaydevgn @karanjohar @KanganaTeam @BeingSalmanKhan
— Rahul Shivshankar (@RShivshankar) October 12, 2020
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. @aamir_khan @iamsrk @karanjohar
— Navika Kumar (@navikakumar) October 12, 2020
Almost a month after Rajput, 34, was found dead in his flat in Mumbai his family later registered a police complaint against his girlfriend Chakraborty, accusing her of a host of offences including abetment of suicide, wrongful restraint, wrongful confinement, theft, criminal breach of trust, and cheating.
Chakraborty has denied all the accusations levelled against her.
Since then a number of Bollywood actors including Padukone, Sara Ali Khan, Sharaddha Kapoor and Rakul Preet Singh have also faced questioning as part of the investigation into Rajput's death. So, far none of them have been accused of any wrongdoing.
The case is now being investigated by three federal agencies.