It is a fine evening and I am all by myself comfortably settled on my allotted ticket seat at my favourite theatre watching the famous Paresh Rawal – Akshay Kumar starrer film “OMG – OH MY GOD!”. The movie is to start and we begin with the usual pre-ritual norms – the ads, promotions and other interesting trailers. Then came the usual disclaimer text but something was odd out of the box. This time instead of the monotonous “All characters are fictitious” one used all the time, there was a special disclaimer used for the film above. As my memory crept deep enough to memorise, it read as –
“OMG! is the journey of the protagonist who discovers his faith through the happenings and occurrences in his life and goes from being a non-believer to a believer. The film is meant for entertainment purposes only and we do not intend to hurt the sentiments of any individual, community, sect or religion. This film is a work of fiction and any resemblance to any person living or dead is purely coincidental.”
I still doubted as to how a mere disclaimer would prevent people from taking on all the hurt caused by such movies. As unravelling as a mind is, I began asking myself some questions as to the basics one – What really does a disclaimer serve its purpose upon? Where did it all start from? Is it too important to be noticed in today’s era?
First the basics – A disclaimer is generally any statement intended to specify or delimit the scope of rights and obligations that may be exercised and enforced by parties in a legally recognized relationship. A disclaimer may specify mutually-agreed and privately arranged terms and conditions as part of a contract; or may specify warnings or expectations to the general public in order to fulfil a duty of care owed to prevent unreasonable risk of harm or injury. Some disclaimers are intended to limit exposure to damages after a harm or injury has already been suffered. Additionally, some kinds of disclaimers may represent a voluntary waiver of a right or obligation that may be owed to the disclaimant.
Thus, disclaimers are available in various types of laws so prescribed –
In Torts – A disclaimer is a statement denying responsibility intended to prevent civil liability arising for particular acts or omissions. Disclaimers are frequently made to escape the effects of the torts of negligence and of occupiers’ liability towards visitors. The courts may or may not give effect to the disclaimer depending on whether the law permits exclusion of liability in the particular situation and whether the acts or omissions complained of fall within the wording of the disclaimer
In Patents – The disclaimer involved here usually states what all has not been claimed in a subject matter of such a patent. Under United States Patent Law, a prosecution disclaimer is a statement made by a patent applicant during the examination of a patent application which can limit the scope of protection provided by the resulting patent.
Fan Fiction – It is a type of fictional text written by fans of any work of fiction where the author uses copyrighted characters, settings, or other intellectual properties from an original creator as a basis for their writing. Fan fiction ranges from a couple of sentences to an entire novel, and fans can both keep the creator’s characters and settings or add their own. The author will usually give a disclaimer saying that the author of the fan fiction does not, in any way, profit from the story and that all creative rights to the characters belong to their original creator.
Thus, here we will look upon disclaimers used in the movies.
The subtle origins
In 1932, Metro Goldwyn Mayor (MGM), a famous American media company and production house made a movie, “Rasputin and the Empress” – a movie based on a Russian Mystic and a holy man called Rasputin and how he slowly asserts his influence over the royal Russian family looking over the kingdom. However, in this movie, a certain depicture of a scene insinuated that the Princess Natasha in the film was “raped” by the mystic Rasputin. The character of the Princess Natasha allegedly potrayed a real-life Russian Princess of that time – Princess Irina Alexandrovna of Russia. Princess Irina along with her husband Felix Yusupov sued MGM for libel.
The jury held its decision that Princess Irina had been defamed and later Irina and her husband Felix Yusupov were reportedly awarded $127,373 in damages by the English Court of Appeal in 1934, and $1,000,000 in an out-of-court settlement with MGM. The film began with a claim that “This concerns the destruction of an empire … A few of the characters are still alive—the rest met death by violence.” One of the judges in the jury held that had the producers incorporated a statement opposite to this the case would have been stronger and much in their favour.
Owing to this particular landmark decision, many films decided to switch their stances and incorporate what is known as the “All persons are fictitious” disclaimer. Upon further evolution, even animals found their places in such films and upon huge outcry, disclaimers further added – “No Animals were harmed in the shooting of the movie”.
Thus, began the evolution of disclaimers. Today, almost every movie has a space in their frames for one and it has not stopped ever since. These little disclaimers are needed to provide much clarity and to be immune of lawsuits or any legal trouble later. In today’s modern times, this simple box of a disclaimer is perhaps more than what it is looked upon and its importance grows more day by day. Today, disclaimers have taken a lot of changes in its writing and formats to incorporate many different scenarios accordingly. Each movie uses disclaimers to set and make aware of the people of what they might be seeing depending upon the nature and content of movies that are up for the watch.
I do not think there cannot be a better example to look and start upon anywhere except our beloved motherland India. Our mother India, the cradle and belly of all civilisations, ethnicities, religions, cultures, languages and what not – the less enumerated the better. It is India’s mixed breed of all these that provides an excellent platform to learn and depict more and more of such India’s socio-ethnic diversity so spread out. Not just this, but many real-life instances are often depicted too with changes but yet again these involve altercations and there is a huge public outcry on it. In today’s world, movies and television series makers have to be extraordinarily careful while operating and functioning on these grounds.
It is here that when movies are chosen to play this role, often it happens that what would be a straight depiction is sometimes seen objectionable or as they today “offending” to other particular sects, which causes much furore and annoyance. Mind you, to satisfy the crave of everyone in this belly of ours is not an easy task. Thus, as we progress more and more, the need of such disclaimers keeps up rising and not just a mere text does it – it further needs to be enhanced with more explanations and points depending upon the content of such movie or television series.
A plethora of examples are listed here which involved certain views and observations by the learned courts –
- Everyone is aware of the Padmaavat movie controversy where the Karni sena took to the streets to protest against the historical inaccuracy of the movie’s plot. Padmaavat was banned in multiple states as protests ensued regarding the depiction of Rani Padmavati and the Rajput history in general, the filmmakers issued seven declarations and clarifications through full-page newspaper ads even before the film released. Also, the film had one of the longest disclaimers ever, including explanation of the dance forms and clothes in the film not claiming historical authenticity, some of which were read as –
‘Use of certain expressions in this film are purely for dramatising the performances’.
‘This film does not support the use of expletives’.
‘Under the Hindu Marriage Act polygamy is illegal in India’.
- Another example was the famous Akshay Kumar, Rajinikanth-starrer 2.0 where Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI) sent a legal notice to the film producers, alleging that the film has “obscurantist and anti-scientific attitudes towards mobile phone, towers and mobile services”.
- The famous John Abraham starrer Batla House a narration and depiction of the same name real life encounter which had occurred in Delhi in 2008 also had a disclaimer stating –
“The film is based on events and information only available in the public domain. The film is not a documentary and is not intended to accurately reflect events”.
- The famous 2012 Bollywood crime movie Gangs of Wasseypur which depicts the working and kingpin of the Coal Mafia Raj in India stated in its disclaimer that Wasseypur was indeed a place in the city of Dhanbad in Jharkhand and the film was based on real incidents but the names, characters and certain incidents had been fictionalised for dramatical purposes.
- In 2012, Bata India Limited moved to the Calcutta High Court where it objected to certain lyrics of a song “Mehengai” from the Abhay Deol starrer Chakravyuh film. The lyrics reportedly read as –
“Birla Ho Ya Tata, Ambani Ho Ya Bata, Sabne Apne Chakkar Mein Des Ko Hai Kaata.”
Although the Calcutta High Court refused to remove the song or its lyrics or modify it, it humbly requested the producers of the film to add a disclaimer for justifying the purposes of the song and its lyrics. Thus, the disclaimer added – “Use of the names in the song are merely as example. No injury or disrespect is intended to any particular person or brand.”
- Anurag Kashyap’s famous yet another controversial movie, Udtaa Punjab was again in trouble with the censor board as the Central Bureau of Film Certification (CBFC) had asked the makers to remove Punjab references. The Bombay High Court ruled in favour of the film, but asked to change the disclaimer which was already in existence. The modified disclaimer added a line – “Punjab has been a highway of drugs and not the end consumer of it”.
Thus, from the above listed examples it is evident that with the passage of time, the mere role of disclaimer keeps on expanding further and thus whatever so mentioned in a disclaimer has to be carefully scrutinised and analysed by the film makers and the Central Bureau of Film Certification so that the entire movie from the scratch to the end runs efficiently and not just that, it should even cater to audiences of all types and ensure that their sentiments and interests are further not damaged or hurt upon.
Thus, as teensy and tiny this disclaimer looks like – its evolution and development in terms of law is something that can truly not be missed. So, do take your time out to read one!
(The author is a lawyer at High Court of Judicature at Bombay, Nagpur Bench)
 Youssoupoff v Metro-Goldwyn-Maher Pictures Ltd (1934)
 Rajasthan High Court – Jodhpur, Sanjay Leela Bhansali & Ors vs State & Ors on 6 February, 2018. https://indiankanoon.org/doc/62541523/
 Jharkhand High Court Jawed Khan vs Union Of India & Ors on 28 June, 2012. https://indiankanoon.org/doc/30254462/
 Delhi High Court, Bata India Ltd. vs A.M. Turaz & Ors. on 15 October, 2012.
 Bombay High Court, Phantom Films Pvt. Ltd. And Anr vs The Central Borad Of Cetification … on 13 June, 2016. https://indiankanoon.org/doc/116968980/