Netflix’s upcoming series “Bad Boy Billionaires”-slated to release on September 2- was challenged in two separate petitions before two separate Courts on Friday.
While the Delhi High Court rejected absconding diamond merchant Mehul Choksi’s writ, a local Court in Bihar ordered interim stay on transmission of the series using the name of Subrata Roy, Chairman of Sahara India till the appearance of Netflix’s counsels before the Court.
Opposing Choksi’s plea, the the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) told the Delhi High Court that “freedom of speech and expression is cardinal and should be given full play”. The Ministry said that it does not regulate the content on over-the-top platforms unless that interferes with national security.
On the other hand a Court in Araria, Bihar found force in a petition filed by Subrata Roy seeking stay on the transmission of the series.
“This Court is of the considered view that the plaintiff (Subrata Roy) has qualified tripartite test of prime facie case, balance of convenience and irreparable loss and grant of ad interim injunction in its favour as such the defendants including their employees, directors, officers, associates or any person or entity acting on their behalf or under their authority are restrained from releasing, transmitting, distributing, exhibiting, performing or communicating to the public by any means or technology by audio or video performance of the impugned trailer and series of Bad Boy Billionaires using the name of Subrata Roy till the appearance of the defendant and filing show cause”, reads the order.
The order further reads “the order is interim in nature and the same shall be decided on merits after hearing both the parties”.
Roy has alleged that a London based Director had met him in Lucknow in 2019 claiming that a web feature will be made on the life of Roy. He has further alleged that he was told that the web feature would be titled “Billionaires”.
Advocate Vivek Jha, counsel for Roy, contended that the series is an attempt to tarnish the image of Roy. It was further contended that by putting Roy in the series which also features fugitive economic offender Vijay Mallya, Nirav Modi, Harshad Mehta, the producers are trying to assassinate Roy’s character.
Choksi’s counsel Vijay Aggarwal argued before the Delhi High Court that “excessive publicity prejudices with legal proceedings and will adversely impact Choksi’s trial”.
He asserted that “the hunger of Netflix to remain unregulated needs to be regulated. Till the time the Union of India regulates OTT platforms, aggrieved individuals have to approach the court”. Netflix may be asked to give a preview to the court, Aggarwal added.
Appearing on behalf of Netflix, senior advocate Neeraj Kishan Kaul opposed Choksi’s plea. He said while Netflix was willing to show the web series to the court, it would not give a preview to Choksi.
Kaul said: “Pre-censorship has the effect of killing free speech.” Hitting out at Choksi, he said: “It is a proxy litigation and not maintainable.” He said Choksi featured only for two minutes in the forthcoming web series and that it did not have anything which would prejudice Choksi’s trial.
Describing Choksi’s petition as “gross abuse”, Kaul asked: “Should an absconder be allowed to invoke the extraordinary jurisdiction of this court?”
Another senior lawyer appearing for Netflix argued that Choksi’s petition was “mischievous and misconceived”. He averred that the petition was a ploy to prepare defence against his extradition.
While Netflix cited a Bollywood flick made on the alleged Adarsh housing scam to argue that a similar challenge seeking to stall the movie was rejected by the high court, Choksi cited 2G, Bofors and the 2002 Akshardham temple terror attack cases to counter argue that the accused in those cases were acquitted.
Choksi’s lawyer argued that Netflix’s documentary might prejudice the minds of the public and investigative agencies, and cause irreparable damage to Choksi if he is acquitted in future.
Choksi had moved the Delhi High Court seeking a preview of the upcoming web series that also features Vijay Mallya, Subrata Roy, Harshad Mehta and Choksi’s nephew Nirav Modi.
Aggarwal argued that Choski had been falsely accused of various crimes in India and that he was currently under investigation or standing trial by and before various authorities or courts.
He said: “The petitioner (Choksi) is entitled in terms of Indian law, i.e. Article 21 of the Constitution of India to a presumption of innocence and a free and fair trial. Reputation being a facet of a person’s life, the petitioner is also entitled to a right to a reputation.”
The petition added: “The settled principle has always been and must always remain that trial by media cannot be permitted and courts are obligated to intervene and protect the rights of the accused where a premature or unfair portrayal in a motion picture would unfairly prejudice the accused person’s investigation or trial.”