Petitioner- Shah Rukh Khan
Respondents- State of Rajasthan
Decided on: 20.08.07
Statues Referred: Code of criminal procedure 1973, Indian Penal Code 1860, The cinematograph act 1952
In 1966 a Hindi film Ram Jaane was released, Mr Rajiv Mehra was the director of the film. Shahrukh khan was the actor in the film. The film was screened for public viewing after obtaining the certification by the Central Board.
The respondents who went to see the movie found a particular scene to be defamatory against the community of lawyers practicing in India
The scene was as follows:
The Hero is tried for triple murders in the court room scene the defence lawyer gets up to defend the hero who is however bent upon confessing his crime he therefore questions the conduct of the lawyer and says- “this lawyer well knows that I have killed three persons, yet he tries to save me. Why? For the sake of money, no? For the sake of money, he sells his morals. He sells the laws, by selling the laws you people have to turned life into a misery”
Th respondents stated that because of the said dialogue the respondents were subjected to ridicule and anger from those who were sitting in the movie theatre and were present there, they also alleged that their neighbours ridiculed them as well because of the alleged scene and the dialogue that was delivered.
Embarrassed by this behaviour the respondents filed a criminal complaint against Actor – Shahrukh Khan ,Director – Rajiv Mehra, Film producer -Mr Pravesh Mehra, Co- scriptwriter – Mr Shrikant Sharma, Actress – Ms Juhi Chawla and Ms Vinayak Film Industries who were the distributors in Rajasthan and some unknown distributors alleging that they had been aggrieved by defamation and criminal conspiracy offence under section 500, 501 and 120 B of the Indian Penal Code before the additional chief judicial magistrate on 28 January 1996. The magistrate recorded the statement of the complainant under section 200 of the Crpc.
- The scope and Ambit of section 245 (2) of the Crpc.
- The essential ingredients of defamation.
- Whether benefit of section 79 of IPC be given to an accused at the initial stage of criminal proceeding?
- Whether protection of section 5A of the act of 1952 available to persons involved with making of film in case for defamation?
Contention by the Parties-
It was contended by the petitioner that the magistrate had not appreciated the scope and ambit of section 245 (2) of Crpc. The magistrate before discharging the accused person of the crime should have considered the existence of ingredients of the offence because in the present case there is unavailability of the element of intention in the present case of defamation.
The scene in the film was depicting a dramatic situation where the actor was just delivering dialogue according to the need of the script and under the direction, he was not speaking in his own capacity, he was portraying a character of imaginary kind.
It was stated by the petitioner that according to Section 499, explanation (2) IPC the offence of defamation can be committed against the company or a collection of persons such a collection of persons has to be identifiable, specific and definite the fans cannot be committed against the class the identity of whose members remains general and specific.
Section 79 IPC created an exception in favour of the petitioner and that once the board certified the film for public viewing the producer director the actor the actresses and others associated with the film were protected from prosecution under section 58 of the cinematograph act 1952 which was stated in (Raj Kapoor vs Laxman AIR 1980 SC 605)
Petitioner contended that creative works like a film, a play or a book are the artist’s prized speech and expression and that Article 19 (1) of the Constitution protects them.
The dialogue was said to harm the reputation of the lawyers in the country and was therefore defamatory and such was an offence and punishable.
Stated that complaint was maintainable as defamation was not necessary to be in regard to a particular individual; it can be against a class and Lawyers as a class were identifiable.
79 IPC could not be given at early trial and the said protection of Section 5A of the Act of 1952 was for “obscenity” in a film, and not against an allegation of defamation.
The Fundamental Right Article 19 (1) of the Constitution was never absolute and open to reasonable restrictions. Defamation is one of the grounds which circumscribe the Fundamental Rights under Article 19 (1) of the Constitution of India. Hence, the protection Article 19 (1)(a) was unavailable to the petitioner.
The court’s bench comprising R.S. Chauhan, J. held the following:
That while considering the issue of discharging the accused person, the learned trial court should determine whether a strong suspicion is created against the accused person or not. Secondly, it must examine if there are any legal infirmities or hindrances in framing the charge against the accused person. Magistrate has failed to consider these aspects of the case while passing the impugned order. Hence, the learned Magistrate has failed to consider the scope and ambit of the jurisdiction vested Under Section 245(2) of The Criminal Procedure Code.
An analysis of Section 244 CrPC and Section 245 CrPC clearly reveals that when a warrant case is instituted otherwise than on a police report, the Magistrate shall first proceed to hear the prosecution and to take all such evidence to be produced by the prosecution.
The Court held that a film actor is a hired agent required to capture and to exhibit the essence of the moment. Hence, the element of “intention”–of mens rea-was certainly missing when the petitioner delivered the dialogue. Essential ingredient of defamation was conspicuously absent from the scene.
The learned Magistrate was said to have overlooked the aesthetic aspect of the case, the aspect which makes a film a film, or a work of art. The Apex Court clearly stated: “When, therefore, Explanation (2) to Section 499 talks of a collection of persons as capable of being defamed, such collection of persons must mean a definite and a determinate body.” “The Apex court held that the entire members of the class are clearly unidentifiable and indeterminable. Thus, a group of lawyers could not file a complaint against the petitioner for offence Under Section s 499 and 500 IPC. Therefore, the complaint is not even maintainable. This aspect, too, has escaped the notice of the learned Magistrate in passing the impugned order.
The chosen profession of acting has every right to act in a film and to follow the conventions of Article19(1)(g). The dialogue spoken by the actor, as part of his role’s obligation, reflects not his personal views; it is but an execution of the film’s script. Hence, as an artist–as an actor– he is justified in law to speak the said dialogue to fulfil his role. Magistrate should have extended the benefit of Section 79 of IPC to the petitioner.
Reading of the script clearly establishes that neither the theme of Ram Jaane, nor its plot, is geared to parody the legal profession. In fairness, it must be added that the process of the criminalization of the marginalized of the Indian society is the burden of this film; and the portrayal of powerful people’s indifference to the orphans’ fate, or interests, is the chosen means of its social protest. Clearly, Ram Jaane is not defamatory of the legal profession. Considered against the background of the story’s plot, the offending dialogue does not come off as defamatory. It is not, in essence, criticism of even the legal fraternity. It is firstly an outburst of a frustrated man against the society whom he has failed to master and control. Secondly, it is a sign of his revolt against every symbol of authority. Thirdly, it is portrayal of a misguided youth. Fourthly, the character warns us about neglecting the misguided, the lost youth who has grown up on the footpaths and alleyways.
Hence, it is a plea to take for their care and guidance, before the lost youth turn their ire on the society at large. Seen in its proper perspective, the dialogue is almost essential to the story pervaded with reformatory instinct. Hence, by no sleight of hand can the Protagonist’s utterance of the dialogue be extricated from its fictional frame and branded a defamatory rhetoric.
Criminal proceeding pending before the Additional Civil Judge was further quashed.
This case closely reviewed the provisions of different acts and addressed the issues with rational reasoning stating that the movie had no defamatory remarks for the legal profession along with pointing out the mistakes done by the learned magistrate while discharging his duty.
Prepared by Faigha Naz