The much-awaited mega budget movie Sye Raa Narasimha Reddy, starring Chiranjeevi, Amitabh Bachchan and Vijay Sethupathi, has been caught in a legal tangle.
The legal heirs of Uyyalawada Narasimha Reddy, a 19th century freedom fighter on whose life the film is based, have moved the Telangana High Court, demanding payment of royalty amount by the producer for using their family history. The petitioners also demanded that they should be allowed to watch the movie before its scheduled release on October 2.
The court has posted the matter to Monday for further hearing.
A group of 22 legal heirs have also approached the Telangana State Human Rights Commission and the CBI, accusing the production house of going back on its promise of compensating the family members and the regional censor board in Hyderabad of corruption.
In identical letters sent to both HRC and CBI, five of the fourth generation legal heirs, hailing from Kurnool district of Andhra Pradesh, alleged that despite the case pending in the Telangana High court, the censor board issued the UA certificate on September 26. This was done, they allege, after a hefty monetary deal was struck.
“The regional officer informed the high court and the chairman, Central Board of Film Certification in Mumbai, that this film is not a biography. Hence, it is only a misguidance to the court and the chairman as the producers themselves informed the media many times (about it being based on the life of Narasimha Reddy),” the complaint read.
In its caveat to the court, the production house said that the film was based on the freedom struggle of India and the contribution of Uyyalawada Narasimha Reddy. “But, for the certification purpose, they have put a disclaimer saying it is not a biopic,” the complaint said.
The family members have urged the CBI and HRC to order a probe into the corruption at the Censor Board. While the HRC has accepted the complaint and listed it, the CBI has asked them to approach it through the court.
Royalty promised, not paid
The petitioners alleged that producers of the film had gone back on their promise to pay royalty for use of their family history, house and other articles for the movie before release of its trailer.
“We met Ram Charan, the film’s producer and actor-son of Chiranjeevi, at his residence in Hyderabad on August 20 last year when he promised us to provide royalty fixed at 10 per cent of the film’s cost, which works out to ₹20 crore. However, we were just given Rs 25,000 towards travel expenses,” the family members said in their petition.
Citing the provisions of the Cinematography Act of 1952, they said that it was illegal to make a biopic without the consent of legal heirs.
“Ram Charan is neither willing to show the movie nor is he willing to give any money. Last year, he and the 22 legal heirs had signed on stamped paper stating that this movie is being made on Narasimha Reddy’s life. Now, conveniently they say in court that it is not a biopic and that it will put a disclaimer saying so at the beginning of the movie,” said K Jagadeeshwar Reddy, counsel for the legal heirs.
Jagadeeshwar Reddy claimed that the petitioners are extremely impoverished, live below the poverty line, working as daily wagers.
Dastagiri Reddy, the first petitioner, in his affidavit, pointed out that the producers had approached them last year through a Telugu TV channel and requested the family to enter into an agreement.
“Believing their words, 22 members of the Uyyalawada Narasimha Reddy family met the producer (Ram Charan) at his residence. He promised us orally that he will provide us all regal claim for the use of our family history and places like our house and other articles, literature of Narasimha Reddy before the release of the theatrical trailer. We never gave any consent in writing,” says the affidavit.
“To say that the movie is not a biopic would be strange given that it has been promoted as the story of the first freedom fighter from Kurnool district. For the makers to now say it is not a biopic amounts to lying,” the petitioners said.
According to the filmmakers, they have already approached the civil court and obtained an injunction order restraining any interference with the release of the multilingual film.
Uprising against British
Hailed as the 19th century hero who led the first rebellion in Andhra against British rule in 1846, Narasimha Reddy was a descendant of a disposed ‘polygar’ family, a feudal class of chieftains, who looked after administrative matters in villages across the south.
Historians say that he organised an army of 5,000 villagers to fight against the tyranny of the British. The war was a challenge that the chieftain of Koilkuntala threw at the British after the latter tried to remove the privileges accorded to the polygars and also attempted to acquire their estates.
Around 2,000 peasants were believed to have been killed in the 1846 battle. Narasimha Reddy carried a reward of ₹1,000 on his head for killing a British forest guard.
He took refuge at the Nallamalai hills for a long time before he was captured and hanged to death in 1847.