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Bombay High Court Rejects Enforcement of WIFPA Award Against ALTT in ‘Mentalhood’ Case

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Published on: October 23, 2023 at 13:19 IST

The Bombay High Court refused to enforce an award from the Western India Film Producers’ Association (WIFPA) directing ALTT, Balaji Telefilms’ OTT unit, to pay Rs. 1,57,00,000 to the makers of the web series “Mentalhood.”

Justice SM Modak stated that the Disputes Settlement Committee of WIFPA’s decision could not be enforced as an arbitral award since there was no arbitration agreement between the parties, particularly as ALTT is not a member of WIFPA.

The court clarified that without an explicit arbitration clause or agreement and with ALTT’s non-membership in WIFPA, the decision could not be considered an arbitral award. The court highlighted that mere participation in a proceeding before the Dispute Settlement Committee did not transform it into an arbitration process.

Film Farm India Pvt Ltd and ALT Digital Media Entertainment Ltd. had entered into a production agreement for the web series “Mentalhood.”

A dispute arose, and Film Farm India referred it to WIFPA’s Dispute Settlement Committee, claiming Rs. 1,79,50,000. On March 5, 2021, the Committee issued an Award directing ALTT to pay Rs. 1,57,00,000 to Film Farm. Film Farm India filed a commercial execution application to enforce the award.

The court had to determine whether WIFPA’s decision could be considered an award under the Arbitration and Conciliation Act, 1996.

Advocate PM Havnur, representing Film Farm India Pvt. Ltd., argued that the WIFPA decision was enforceable as an arbitral award, emphasizing that WIFPA’s Articles of Association contained provisions for dispute resolution through the Dispute Settlement Committee. He contended that the proceedings before the Committee followed a procedure similar to arbitration, and its decisions should be treated as awards.

On the other hand, Advocate Rashmin Khandekar, representing ALT Digital Media Entertainment Ltd., argued that without an arbitration agreement and as a non-member of WIFPA, its decision could not be classified as an arbitral award.

He noted that the production agreement specified the jurisdiction of the courts, indicating the parties’ intent to seek legal recourse through the court system. He argued that the proceedings before the Disputes Settlement Committee could be considered, at most, as conciliation.

The court’s decision was based on the absence of an explicit arbitration clause in the production agreement and the non-membership of ALT Digital Media in WIFPA. It found that the proceedings before the Committee could not be converted into arbitration solely through participation, and the production agreement clearly indicated the intention to seek legal redress through the court system.

In light of these findings, the court concluded that the Disputes Settlement Committee’s decision was not enforceable as an arbitral award under the Arbitration and Conciliation Act, and it could only be considered as a decision by a private tribunal. Consequently, the Execution Application was dismissed, with the court allowing ALT Digital Media Entertainment Limited’s application.

Case Title: Comm. Execution Application (L) No. 19641 of 2022 Case Title – Film Farm India Pvt Ltd v. ALT Digital Media Entertainment Ltd.