Marathi director Sarika Mene has claimed that the Hindi movie October has lifted crucial plot points and characters from her 2017 production Aarti – The Unknown Love Story. October, which stars Varun Dhawan, was released on April 13.

Mene has filed a non-cognisable criminal complaint against October’s makers at the Vile Parle police station in Mumbai. She has also filed complaints with the Akhil Bharatiya Marathi Chitrapat Maha Mandal, which represents Marathi filmmakers, and the trade bodies Indian Motion Pictures Producers’ Association and Screen Writers Association. The filmmakers have denied the allegation.

Directed by Shoojit Sircar and written by Juhi Chaturvedi, October revolves around Dan (Dhawan) whose life is transformed when he starts taking care of his colleague Shiuli (Banita Sandhu) after she is hospitalised. Aarti – The Unknown Love Story, which was released in Maharashtra on August 18, 2017, is about Sunny (Roshan Vichare), who nurses his comatose girlfriend Aarti (Ankita Bhoir) for years until her death.

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Although Sircar did not respond a request by Scroll.in for an interview, he issued the following statement on behalf of his company, Rising Sun Pictures, which has co-produced October: “We understand that there are some allegations of copyright infringement against our film ‘October’. We are creative people and have full faith in our work and our team, which has given extraordinary films like Piku, Pink etc. We have not heard of the film ‘Aarti’ nor do we have full details of the matter as yet. We are sensitive towards feelings of film makers. We will look into this and deal with it appropriately.”

Mene based her debut feature on her brother, Sunny Pawar. In 2006, Pawar’s girlfriend Aarti Makwana became comatose following an accident and was admitted to Jaslok Hospital in Mumbai. Pawar took care of her for the next four years until her death in 2010. Pawar’s dedication to Makwana made it to the headlines.

Mene registered the story of Aarti – The Unknown Love Story at the Screen Writers Association on March 30, 2016. She said that she approached the police after failing to elicit a response from the film associations to which she took her case.

“I had my suspicions on seeing the promos of October, so I went to SWA [Screen Writers Association], but I was told to return after the film was released,” Mene alleged. “But after the film’s release, I have been going to the SWA, but nobody is listening to me or is ready to hear me out. At IMPPA [Indian Motion Pictures Producers’ Association], of which I am also a member, I was told that since Shoojit Sircar and others are not members, they cannot take any action. Finally, the DCP [Deputy Commissioner] at the police station told me that they cannot handle copyright issues.”

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The director is currently pursuing legal options, and said that the Screen Writers Association has asked her for a copy of her film.

Mene has also been working on a Hindi remake of Aarti – The Unknown Love Story with Hemal Trivedi, the director of the documentary Among the Believers, for the past six months. Their screenplay is nearly complete, and they have approached actors such as Rajkummar Rao for the project.

“Sitting in the theatre, watching October, I was jotting down the similarities between our films, and I broke down,” Mene said. “I did not expect filmmakers of such calibre to do this to me. I want an acknowledgement from them. I know where my story came from. But what is the source of their story? And it is not just a matter of a story being stolen, but this is my real story. This is truly my brother’s story.”

Scroll.in has watched Aarti – The Unknown Love Story as well as October. In both movies, the heroine meets an accident while being with her friends, has a single mother who is also raising two other children, and lies comatose for about nine to ten months. The hero does not contact his own family for many days because he is busy caring for the patient. The woman’s mother tells the hero to pursue his career instead of spending his time in the hospital.

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There are differences too. In Aarti – The Unknown Love Story, the man and the woman have been a couple much before the accident. In October, Dan and Shiuli are colleagues rather than lovers. October traces the hero’s coming-of-age experience. Aarti – The Unknown Love Story follows the romance between the main characters and examines the hero’s sacrifice and the experiences of the families involved in the second half.

Aarti – The Unknown Love Story was made by a group of newcomers on a budget of Rs 30 lakhs. October has reportedly been made on a budget of Rs 20 crores with an experienced crew.

Proving plagiarism

Mere similarity in premise, plot and theme between two films does not amount to plagiarism, or “copyright infringement” as it is defined by Indian law, said Bombay High Court advocate Vaibhav Bhure.

In the RG Anand versus M/S. Delux Films & Ors case of 1978, the Supreme Court of India had ruled that there can be no copyright on ideas, subject matters, themes, plots, historical and legendary facts, and that violation of copyright in these areas is “confined to the form, manner and arrangement and expression” in which the ideas of the author of a copyrighted work is treated by another.

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The ruling also acknowledged that while dealing with the same idea, similarities in two works of art are bound to occur. For copyright infringement to be established, courts should determine if the copied work has substantial and fundamental similarities in “form of expression” with the copyrighted work – “If the defendant’s work is nothing but a literal imitation of the copyrighted work with some variations here and there it would amount to violation of the copyright”.

Screenwriter Anjum Rajabali, a founding member of the Screen Writers Association, said that while films may share the same premise, a plagiarism allegation can stick only after the evidence has been carefully examined.

“In this case, one can approach the Dispute Settlement Committee of the SWA and file a complaint,” Rajabali said. “Three senior writers of the committee will minutely study the films and the screenplays in question and reach a decision. Otherwise, one can bypass that and go to court. If October’s makers have indeed plagiarised, justice will be done.”

High Court advocate Bhure said that the decision of the Screen Writers Association will not be legally binding since the association is not a statutory body recognised under Indian copyright law. A person alleging intellectual property theft will have to file a copyright infringement suit at an appropriate court claiming copyright over the piece of work in question, he said.

In order to prove plagiarism, the court may conduct a lay observer test, wherein a person, who is not an expert in relation to the objects under observation, will be brought in to examine both films and screenplays and determine if one is a copy of the other, Bhure explained.