The appalling demise of actor Sushant Singh Rajput (SSR) has left Bollywood in dismay. His death has led to several controversies in the Bollywood industry. Some people have stated that nepotism in Bollywood is the main cause of his death. Some have stated other factors like clinical depression on the ground that the actor was suffering from depression for the past 6 months.
It’s not the first time that an actor has committed suicide. In the past too, such incidents have attracted public attention. However, they fade away after a period of time. The author, now, considers the legal perspective in the area of Bollywood.
Celebrity Management companies like-Kwan, Krossover Entertainment sign actors. They also get actors a brand endorsement. But they look into every other aspect of the celebrity’s personality. They monetize their personality and make them brands too.
An actor is not only the one who acts in a film but a multi-faceted personality and public figure. This entails him to get more projects in the future. However, shouldn’t actors’ contracts be actually examined closely by celeb managers? If they are making actors’ assets, aren’t they responsible for maintaining the assets?
SSR Death Blow: The Probe Trends
Recently, Sanjay Leela Bhansali, the filmmaker, was also summoned by the police in the actor’s case. The probe revealed that due to the unavailability of dates, the actor was not cast in his films. Earlier, the police had also asked for the actor’s contracts with YRF productions. The post-mortem report also confirms the cause of death to be asphyxia. Even the cloth which the actor used to hang himself will undergo a tensile strength test. Amidst the increased controversies, one should note that the abetment to suicide angle is intensifying. What urges people to think that the case might be linked to abetment to suicide?
Advocate Sudhir Kumar Ojha has registered an FIR at Bihar. The FIR was lodged under Sections 306, 109, 504, and 506 of IPC. The main crux of the FIR revolves around abetment to suicide. Under Section 306, the element of instigation and positive acts become significant. In other words, the overt acts by the abettors must leave the accused with no other option but to die.
Would career destruction suffice as an instigation leading someone to commit suicide? The dots can only be connected after the investigation gets completed. Moreover, the beyond reasonable doubt parameter in criminal law is an escape route. Looking at alternative career options the actor had, will alleged abettors get through?
Celebrity Management Companies: Are they Miserably Failing?
Celebrity Management Business is a full-fledged business with a cost and revenue model. These companies help the actors manage their PR activities along with the movie projects. The sources of revenue are functions, social media, and appearances. Performances and other investment ventures also serve as a revenue source. Once an actor avails these companies, these act as agencies to monetize opportunities. They act as their gatekeepers. Generally, launch platforms sub-license the contracts to specialists such as these companies. Legal contracts are also flouted under the garb of affordability.
Hence, for an actor, simple contracts with a legal team engaged to look into the terms is a must. Termination and Force-Majeure clause are two essential clauses to look at. Agencies focus on increasing revenue in the short-term. Hence, the long- term strategy should remain in the house. There should be an employee who liaisons on the actor’s behalf with agencies. These companies should focus on a few actors but with a long-term strategic focus.
Contingent Clauses in Artist Agreements: Are Production Houses Exercising Monopoly?
Actors work ardently while doing movie projects. At times, it has a lasting impact on their day to day lives. For instance, Sushant Singh Rajput had trained himself rigorously for 9 months to play the role of M.S. Dhoni.
Another instance is actor Ranveer Singh isolating himself for 21 days. He did this while preparing for Alauddin Khiljii’s role in Padmavat. Actor Ranveer Singh had also consulted a psychiatrist. This was because he was still into his role days after the Padmavat shooting ended. Veteran Actor Mr. Shah Rukh Khan met a lot of people suffering from Asperger’s Syndrome for My Name is Khan. He practiced autism even at home during the shoot. Actors are putting in their heart and soul for movie projects. Is it fair for production houses to have arbitrary bargaining power?
An actor’s agreement has a lot of pertinent clauses relating to salary, bonus, looks of the actor. It may also contain clauses of exclusivity and working hours. Non-disclosure clauses forbidding actors to disclose movie themes are also written. If one talks about SSR’s case, the actor had a three-movie contract with YRF. According to media reports, the actor was to get a particular amount for the first movie. However, if the first movie is a hit, he would get double and if not, he would get a lesser amount. Depending on this, they would decide his acting stance in the third movie. What is a hit and what is a flop, is again the production houses’ discretion.
Contingent contracts are well permitted under Sections 31 – 36 of the Indian Contract Act. Yet, the event’s contingency is too subjective at times as in this case. Hence, a need for monitoring by celeb management companies is felt.
The SSR Case Aftermath: What Major Drafting Changes Should Celeb Contracts Undergo?
Simpler contracts with clear details of events of termination are essential. Force Majeure clauses also need necessary attention. Contingent events giving subjective discretion to production houses must not get incorporated. Celeb management companies should act as their monitoring bodies. An IP perspective for securing the actor’s rights is also significant in such cases. According to Ms. Deepika Chhangani, an IP Professor at NMIMS School of Law:
“Structured clauses for royalty sharing, keeping in mind the revenue model must get embodied. At times, Copyright law does not talk about royalty sharing mechanisms. Some leeway for image rights of the movie will also help strengthen the actor’s bargaining power. Additional remuneration, for social media promotion before release, can also give some clarity. The compensation clause for the rescission of contracts must get an analysis check. As then the actor loses his brand value.”
If clarity in drafting persists, diligent actors can never lose their share, even as they bargain terms with production houses.
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