Karan Johar vs Indiapride Advisory Pvt Ltd: Celebrity Status & Infringement Of Personality Rights




Whether you’re a diehard Bollywood fanatic or a casual cinema enthusiast, the genre of Hindi romantic comedies has to always be highlighted by one individual; namely Karan Johar (KJo). Given the multiple visually explosive love sagas depicting NRI gazillionaire’s and family hardships, that he has produced and/or directed over the span of 25 years now, even those averse to the motion picture medium of entertainment, know about the existence of this director/producer and his high grossing movies. This is exactly why, when film producers Indiapride Advisory Private Limited (IAPL) decided to title their upcoming film “Shaadi Ke Director: Karan Aur Johar” and base it on the story of a duo named after KJo who try their luck as directors in the industry, it was difficult if not laughable for one to believe there was no intent on IAPL’s part to have their Film be associated with the veteran producer.

On June 13, 2024, a day prior to its release, the Film was slapped with an ad-interim injunction by the Bombay High Court (HC) after KJo filed a suit against IAPL for unlawfully benefitting from his celebrity status by having the Film and its promotional materials directly form an association with KJo by way of exploiting his personality rights. For those not acquainted with the intricacies, of ‘right to privacy’ and ‘personality rights’ here is a simple explanation on the topic. Imagine you have a nosy neighbour who is extremely invested in your life, so much so that, she thinks she can record your day-to-day existence or make a movie out of it for pure entertainment and to make a quick buck. Now imagine you are not just a regular person who has this woman as a neighbour, but in fact a prominent figure, who is well known and has built a reputation for yourself through your work and/or conduct; and your nosy neighbour wants to portray the said film as an advertisement for her business and depict that her business is endorsed by you, in an attempt to increase her sales. In such a scenario the right to privacy protects you from her intrusion into your life and personality rights protect you from her unlawful attempt to gain benefits basis your reputation. In the case of personality rights, the protection accorded to the individual also includes protection against unlawful utilisation of the said individuals name, personality traits, voice and over all brand.

It was using the said personality rights that afforded him protection, that KJo approached the HC seeking a permanent injunction on the release of the Film citing the unlawful and unauthorised utilisation of his name and attributes. KJo’s counsel contended before the HC that given the celebrity status and well-established reputation that KJo has built from his work, it was clear that his name alone was significantly well known enough to be treated as a “brand” and for one to derive advantage from the exploitation of such brand. This, KJo’s counsel further stated, is exactly what IAPL intended to do by having the title of their Film not only depict both, the first and last name of KJo, but also make a reference to his profession as a “Director”. He further went on to argue how utilisation of KJo’s name and attributes in the Film’s title and its promotional materials was a strategic move on IAPL’s part to create confusion amongst the masses, and depict an association between the Film and KJo to enable the producers to garner benefits from his goodwill.

On hearing the arguments put forth and upon further reviewing the contents of the trailer of the Film, Justice RI Chagla noted that a prima facie case for protection of personality rights was evident, and given the urgency on the matter due to the imminent release of the Film, a temporary injunction on the release and exploitation of the Film theatrically and/or otherwise; including the running of its promotional materials on any mode or medium, was granted, pending the hearing and final disposal of the suit. The HC also placed the interim application for further consideration on July 10, 2024.

It is interesting to note that tactics, like the one undertaken by IAPL are not as novel as we would like to believe and instances of unlawful utilisation of personality rights has been prominent in the media field for a while now. Take the case of Shivaji Rao Gaikwad v Varsha Productions or Anil Kapoor v Simply Life India & Ors; both illustrations of third-parties trying to benefit from the goodwill of established personalities and prominent figures like Rajnikant and Anil Kapoor, where the court upheld the personality rights by recognising the ‘celebrity status’ of the individuals involved and identifying the unauthorised utilisation of their traits as an attack on their personality rights. With technological advances and the invention of artificial intelligence, such infringing and unlawful exploitation is only expected to rise in the near future, the only hope being that legal advances can be made at the same pace to keep up with, if not defeat such unfair practices.

Authors: Shaanal Shah & Dayita Panicker


Interns and Paralegals.


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