The latest update in the controversy surrounding the ownership of the 1979 Maula Jatt rights and Bilal Lashari's The Legend of Maula Jatt is a stay order issued by Sindh High Court.
Ammara Hikmat, the upcoming film's producer shared on Twitter that the Court has issued a stay order "against the party that had been posing for the past three years as the rightful owner of MJ rights, i.e Mr. Bhatti and clan, restraining them from defaming."
When another person commented saying that no one should be able to pick up "someone's legacy film/concept and remake it and claim it as their own", she replied saying: "That's why we made it with Nasir Adib sahb who came up with the concept." Adib was the writer of the original movie.
The stay order, a copy of which was shared with Images has been issued as an interim measure while Hikmat's defamation case is ongoing. Ammara also shared that they will be announcing the release date of The Legend of Maula Jatt soon.
Talking to Images about the order, Muttaqi Sarwar, Mr. Bhatti's son revealed, "Defaming means when you put false allegations on someone. SHC says we cannot defame the TLOMJ and team but it doesn't we're not allowed to tell the truth and that we cannot talk about our ongoing cases against the team of TLOMJ in Lahore courts."
"We'll surely present our cases before the SHC on the mentioned dates and we might also challenge the order of SHC in Supreme Court because our opponents are just trying to silence us by deceiving the SHC. We'll tell the SHC that their film is on stay by Lahore High Court's order and their certificates are also been challenged in the LHC which they haven't even mentioned before the SHC so no one is defaming them but instead we are fighting for our lawful right. We'll explain this to SHC and all the courts when necessary or if asked," he added.
The legal battle so far
In 2017, Mr Sarwar Bhatti filed a suit before the Intellectual Property Organisation of Pakistan (IPO-Pakistan) tribunal seeking an injunctive order against the exhibition of The Legend of Maula Jatt.
Back in January, Muttaqi, his son who also heads Bahoo Films Corporation, said that the tribunal had restrained Lashari and the producers from using the title, characters and dialogues, adding that the case was still pending. They also filed a case with the Federal Investigation Agency against the team of the new film, and an inquiry was ongoing.
Also earlier in March, the Lahore High Court had stayed the unauthorised use of the title of the film Maula Jatt, and dialogues, characters, making/shooting and exhibition of work identical to the movie.
Bhatti’s counsel Ahsan Masood had at the time argued that the petitioner possessed the rights in relation to the movie, including the title and cinematographic works, and the censorship certificate was also issued by the censor board in the name of the petitioner as producer.
Masood had said that the respondent producer and his team were making The Legend of Maula Jatt having same dialogues, characters and script of the 1979 film, which under the law they were not entitled to do.
However, Barrister Ahmad Pansota and another counsel for the respondents had argued that they were not using any unauthorised copyright or trademarks, anyway. They said their clients had a valid copyright certificate on the script for The Legend of Maula Jatt and were acting in accordance with the law.
A fresh twist in the tale
Interestingly enough, just a week ago, legal representatives of Saim Jamil, son of one of the film's deceased investors Chaudhry Muhammad Jamil, alleged that Bahoo Films Corporation, the Sarwar Bhatti-fronted production company that is claiming full ownership of Maula Jatt, is in fact registered under a partnership deed between six parties out of which Chaudhry Jamil and Sarwar Bhatti were the main investors.
At a press conference at Lahore Press Club yesterday, Saim Jamil's legal counsel Advocate Almas Jovindah said, "Sarwar Bhatti has been misrepresenting facts and concealing documents from the court by stating that he owned the original Maula Jatt in sole proprietorship. When in fact the movie like many others produced during that time, were the property of Bahu Films Corporation which was a partnership concern. Mr. Sarwar Bhatti has been making many claims regarding the rightful ownership when he himself has not accounted for the rights of the partners in Bahu Films Corporation".
Jovindah further emphasised, "The copyrights and trademark belong to the corporation and not an individual person. Sarwar Bhatti has not settled accounts with the shareholders as agreed in the partnership deed.”
He said, "Chaudhry Jamil worked hard for this corporation and gave many years to make movies like Maula Jatt a success. His elder son Saim was only 6 years old when he was murdered and they could not fight or pursue any legal discourse at that time. How can Sarwar Bhatti make such claims when he himself never gave the rightful owners their ownership or gain from all the earnings he made?"
Saim Jamil said he was compelled to come forward after watching Sarwar Bhatti blatantly lie about the film's ownership on the media.
They also claimed to present proof of Jamil's stake in Bahoo Films Corporation, including the original partnership deed signed in 1978, an Income Tax Assessment Order and a letter by the Pakistan Films Producer Association. Jovindah claimed that Chaudhry Jamil had the largest share (25%) in Bahoo Film Corporation while his father-in-law, Iqbal Malik owned another 10%, bringing the total family share to 35%. The remaining 65% share swere split between five other partners, including Bhatti.
In response to this new development, Muttaqi says, "The cases involving The Legend of Maula Jatt are still going in the courts and institutions like FIA. A lot of further answers to the matter are reserved by Bahoo Films Corporation and we'll give it along with appropriate legal actions at an appropriate time. The other claimants, Chaudhry Jamil and company have been entered in the matter by the TLMJ team to confuse the matter because they have no defense to justify their crime which they were doing for last few years."
"We have all the proofs and we'll take all proper legal actions against all the false claims. The destiny of the team TLMJ is jail doesn't matter how much they try to drag the attention of public towards false claims."
Mr. Bhatti added, "They'll only watch their film in their own home."
Bhatti's lawyer, Ahsan Masood also says that the case was fixed for May 8 in Sindh High Court and he had collected his court order and had requested time for his written statement. The court had adjourned the hearing for two weeks and ordered Mr. Bhatti to submit his response.
He said that the applicants can not claim the copyright as Bhatti owns all the rights to Maula Jutt. Justice Aqeel Ahmed Abbasi and Zulfiqar Ahmed Khan were the 2 judges hearing this case.
Additional reporting by Rana Bilal