By Subhash K Jha
MUMBAI: Poor Amit Mehra. When he decided to launch his career as producer with a remake of his father the illustrious Prakash Mehra’s Zanjeer he didn’t know the stumbling blocks ahead would almost destroy his fledgling career.
Mired in controversies, the road ahead looks pretty rough for Zanjeer, what with the film’s original writers Salim Khan and Javed Akhtar refusing to relent regarding the relinquishment of the remake right to Amit Mehra. This, in spite of Salim Saab’s son Salman Khan being close to the neo-Zanjeer’s leading man the Telugu superstar Ramcharan Teja and his father the legendary Chiranjeevi.
Salman, I am told, has decided to keep out of his father and his former writing partner’s fight for copyright with Mehra.
The matter goes back to March 2012 when Salim and Javed got to know through the media that Prakash Mehra’s son was ready to remake the Salim-Javed written 1973 blockbuster Zanjeer with Ramcharan Teja cast in the role that made Amitabh Bachchan a superstar.
Shocked by what he saw as a copyright betrayal, Salim and Javed got in touch with Amit Mehra through a lawyer, hoping to sort the matter out amicably out of court. Both Salim and Javed were very clear that they though they deserved a substantial monetary compensation for their original script to be remade.
Adding further legal complications to the frozen issue is the fact that Amit Mehra and his director Apoorva Lakhia are not only remaking Zanjeer into Hindi but also in Telugu.
This, say Salim-Javed duo, is a copyright infringement on a double level.
The matter got further complicated with Amit Mehra claiming that he has monetarily compensated his two brothers for the remake rights when in fact the remake rights were not with any member of the Mehra family.
As the matter stands now, the honourable courts have frozen the compensatory amount for the Zanjeer remake .
When contacted, Javed Akhtar spoke exclusively to us for the first time since the matter entered the courts.
He says, “It’s very simple, really. Salim Saab and my contract was with Prakash Mehra Productions (PMP) for our script to be made only in Hindi. The South Indian rights for Zanjeer were with us. Back in those days in the 1970s Hindi films being remade into South Indian languages was rare. And even if our Hindi scripts were remade into South Indian languages we were never conscious of the different languages in the South. We’d just sell our hit Hindi films to the South without ascertaining which South Indian langage it would be remade into. They would give us Rs 1 lakh or so for the remake rights. We had sold South Indian rights of several of our hits like Don and Yaadon Ki Baraat.”
Javed Saab says he was shocked to hear that Prakash Mehra’s son was remaking Zanjeer in not only Hindi but also in Telugu. “Salim Saab and I informed Amit Mehra of our misigivings. We then got to know that only Amit is remaking Zanjeer while his other two brothers are staying away. We advised him to sort the matter out amicably with us and not make a tamasha of it. However he didn’t seem to take us seriously.”
In a startling revelation, Javed Saab tells us that he has the legal papers to prove that the South Indian remake rights of Zanjeer belong to the Salim-Javed partnership.
Informs Javed Saab, “I told Amit Mehra to find a reasonable solution. I asked him to let us know what he has to offer in the way of compensation. He came home with fruits and addressed me as ‘Uncle’ and left. This is not a very professional attitude. We tried contacting him 2-3 times.We got no response. Then we wrote a letter to Amit to which we got a reply saying we (Salim-Javed) have no rights of Zanjeer and all the rights are with Amit.”
This is when Salim and Javed approached the Writers’s Association who forwarded the case to the Workers’ Federation.
Says Javed Saab, “The super-hit Hindi films that are made into Telugu get up to Rs 3 crore. So we feel we also deserve a compensation of Rs 3 crore for the Zanjeer remake rights which we hold and have papers to prove it. Secondly, when we had sold the Zanjeer script to PMP it was for a film titled ‘Production No.1” which starred Amitabh Bachchan, Jaya Bhaduri and Pran. If it’s the same script that is being remade then the same cast should be in the film. We gave the rights to make a film with a particular cast and crew. We did not give the right to remake that film in Hindi with any other cast and crew. So money must be paid for remake rights in Hindi as well.”
Apparently, Amit Mehra told Salim-Javed that his two brothers claimed to own the remake rights of Zanjeer.
Says Javed, “Amit tells us he has an agreement of Rs 4 crore with his brothers for the remake rights. But since the brothers have no papers to prove that the rights are with them, the matter has gone into arbitration and from there to the courts. Now the courts have said that until the matter is sorted out , the money remains with the court. Amit argues that he can’t compensate both us (Javed and Salim) and his brothers for the same product. Our argument is simple.We’ve nothing to do with his dispute with his brothers. To give you another example, if I take your car from your compound and leave and if I say I can’t return your car because my brother claims it is his property, what would this mean? The argument is nonsense.We have nothing to do with who took the stolen property. We are concerned with the party which stole our property. Who is remaking our script and who will make money out when it’s released? Amit Mehra. We’ll address our grievances to him only.”
Javed sees the whole Zanjeer remake fracas as one more example of how badly writers are treated in the Indian film industry.
“They are willing to spend huge amounts on everyone and everything—stars, locations, costumes, choreographer, action director. But they won’t spend on a script. The truth is, only those filmmakers who have taken the scripts seriously have survived for long ,” Javed says.
While Raliance, the producers of Zanjeer, have placed a strict embargo on all media interaction with the film’s cast and crew, a very prominent members of the crew told us, “Amit Mehra is not shying away from paying the remake rights. But why would he pay to two parties for the same script? Either he pays his brothers who claim they’ve the rights or he pays Salim-Javed. Since both parties claim to have papers proving they own the remake right, let’s see whose claim stands up to scrutiny in the court. Amit’s 4-crore compensation is with the courts. Let them decide who gets it. But if he has to shell out 7 crores to the two parties plus lawyers charges Zanjeer would be the costliest remake in the history of Indian cinema.”
Adds Salim Khan fondly, “Zanjeer changed a lot of lives. It turned around our (Salim-Javed’s) careers, Amitabh’s and Prakash Mehra’s careers. It accelerated our careers and redefined the screenplay for Hindi cinema. The comedy track was done away with, for once. The hero didn’t sing any song. He didn’t even smile in the film. At the time when it was being made all of what Javed Saab and I thought to be unique selling points (USPs) in our script were stumbling blocks. So many heroes refused Zanjeer. Dharmendra was the first hero it went to. Dev Saab and Raj Kumar Saab refused. Dilip Kumar Saab felt that it didn’t jell with the kind of films he was doing. He felt there wasn’t much room for a performance for the hero. However I’ve to tell you when once I asked Dilip Saab which films he regretted not doing he mentioned Baiju Bawra, Pyaasa and Zanjeer.I was hoping he’d mention Zanjeer and he did. Later we did two films Kranti and Shakti with Dilip Saab. But Zanjeer remains very special to both Javed Saab and me. My opinion on remakes has changed. Earlier I took it as a compliment when someone attempted to remake one of my scripts written 25-30 years ago. Whether it’s Zanjeer, Sholay or Seeta Aur Geeta the fact that they keep coming back to old scripts proves there’s a scarcity of writing. So now I am of the opinion that the original writers should be monetarily compensated. ”