The Case of Three Faces

My Lord, ‘Mersal’ Infringed ‘Moondru Mugam’ Copyright?

R.G. Anand v. M/s. Delux Films, (1978) 4 SCC 118 held, in order to determine whether there is substantial copying, spectator or viewer, after reading or viewing both works in question, should leave with the unmistakable impression: subsequent work is a copy of original.

One of the challenges in undertaking this exercise is, scripts/screenplays are not before Court. Indeed, ‘Moondru Mugam’ and ‘Mersal’ have also not been exhibited in evidence to enable viewing. There is limited evidence on record.

Moondru Mugam StoryMersal Story
Honest Father-Alex Pandian is a Police Officer. 2 Sons – Arun and John. One is a Businessman. Another is a Rowdy.Honest Father-Vertimaaran is a Village Head. 2 Sons – Maaran and Vetri. One is a Doctor. Another is a Magician/Murderer.
Heroine-Radhika, a Press Reporter, is paired with First Son. She wants an exclusive interview.Heroine-Samantha, a Press Reporter, is paired with First Son. She wants an exclusive interview.
Father-Alex Pandian is brutally murdered by Senthamarai and Senthamarai’s Assistant Friend. Before death, Father-Alex Pandian challenges, he will be reborn to take revenge.  Father-Vetrimaaran is brutally murdered by Dr. Daniel and Dr. Daniel’s Assistant Friend. Before death, Father-Vetrimaaran challenges, he will be reborn to take revenge.
At time of Father-Alex Pandian’s murder, Wife gives birth and passes away.At time of Father-Vetrimaaran’s murder, Wife gives birth and passes away.
Sons are brought up by separate Foster Parents – Eldest by a Hindu Family and Youngest by a Christian Father.Sons are brought up by separate Foster Parents – Eldest by a Hindu Family and Youngest by a Christian Father.
Episode of Father-Alex Pandian is revealed at time of Interval.Episode of Father-Vetrimaaran is revealed at time of Interval.
First Son-Arun comes to India from a Foreign Country to take revenge.First Son-Maaran goes to a Foreign Country to take revenge.
First Son-Arun is arrested for murder of Senthamarai’s Assistant Friend.First Son-Maaran is arrested for murder of Dr. Daniel’s Assistant Friend.
Climax: Prime Villian-Senthamarai is killed by Sons of Father-Alex Pandian.Climax: Prime Villian-Dr. Daniel is killed by Sons of Father-Vetrimaaran.

Indeed, it may not be unreasonable to conclude, ’Mersal’ may have been inspired to an extent by ‘Moondru Mugam’. With regard to central events, reason of murder of Vertimaaran in ‘Mersal’ is he questioned an act of medical negligence. By contrast, in ‘Moondru Mugam’, reason of murder is completely different inasmuch as Alex Pandian is a Police Officer. Thus, although there are some similarities and reasonable basis to conclude makers of ‘Mersal’ may have been inspired by ‘Moondru Mugam’, it cannot be concluded, a reasonable viewer of average intelligence who views both would leave with the unmistakable impression: ‘Mersal’ is a copy of ‘Moondru Mugam’. Five Star Films Pvt. Ltd. has failed to establish, there is an infringement of copyright as per law.

It is a matter of record, ‘Mersal’ was exhibited not only in theatres but also by exploitation of satellite rights and OTT rights. Therefore, relief of permanent injunction has been rendered infructuous by subsequent events. As regards relief of damages, no evidence of loss.

Hon’ble Justice Senthilkumar Ramamoorthy of Hon’ble High Court of Madras, Five Star Films Pvt. Ltd. v. Sri Thenandal Films, [Civil Suit (Comm. Suit) No. 116 of 2019 and Original Application No. 127 of 2019] decided on 08.06.2022.

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