Mumbai: A lawsuit seeking to halt production and release of Mission Mangal, a film that would star Akshay Kumar and Vidya Balan about India’s 2014 Mangalyaan Mars Mission, was filed in Mumbai Monday by award-winning filmmaker Radha Bharadwaj. 

Radha alleges that Mission Mangal infringes on the copyright of her original screenplay—which Balan read last year after producer Atul Kasbekar’s company gave it to her. Radha recently finished shooting a film based on her screenplay, now entitled Space MOMs. She believes that Mission Mangal is being rushed into production in order to cripple the commercial prospects for Space MOMs.

Srishti Ojha, founder of Verist Law which is advising Radha on this dispute, outlined the basis for Radha’s lawsuit. “There are hundreds of ways to tell the story of Mangalyaan, but Radha came up with the unique angle of focusing on the women engineers,” said Srishti. Radha wrote her screenplay and registered it with the U.S. Copyright Office in 2016, after the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) had notified Radha of its support for her movie and arranged for Radha to interview several of its engineers." 

In 2016, Radha was set to work with Atul Kasbekar’s production company to find financing for her film. Kasbekar’s company signed a non-disclosure agreement that prohibited them from disclosing Radha’s project to anyone without Radha’s prior written consent. Kasbekar also happens to be Vidya Balan’s manager. The lawsuit cites an email from Kasbekar’s team admitting, after the fact, that they had given Radha’s script to Balan and confirming that Balan had read it. Radha terminated her relationship with Kasbekar’s company shortly thereafter and found funding for her film elsewhere. 

The lawsuit fundamentally makes the following allegations against Atul Kasbekar’s company: Radha only agreed to disclose her project to Kasbekar’s team after they signed a contract in which they promised to take extensive precautions to protect Radha’s idea from being copied by others. Not only did Kasbekar’s team violate the contract, but they shared Radha’s script with Vidya Balan, their client, who is now doing another film that uses Radha’s idea. Kasbekar’s team even negotiated the deal for Balan’s new movie.

The suit cites numerous media reports suggesting that the Mission Mangal filmmakers are rushing their film into production. Press reports initially indicated that Mission Mangal would start filming in 2019, and it was recently reported that the Mission Mangal team was preparing to interview ISRO scientists and would complete their script after that. But shortly after those reports, it was reported that filming would begin this month and that the film would be released on August 15, 2019. 

Radha continued, “I’ll bet the full details of the origin of this project were not known to Akshay Kumar, Fox Star or its U.S. parents. But now they know it, and I ask them to act honourably, I have documentation going back to 2014 on my efforts to bring this story and my vision to screen.  
 “My film is a celebration of women, of India, and of India’s ancient heritage of scientific achievement and female empowerment,” said Radha, who was born and raised in Chennai. “It was conceived, written and directed by a woman. My film has a female producer and a female financier and executive producer. All of the lead actors are women. And now the Bollywood Boys Club, with its female enablers, wants to shove all these women aside and grab this project for a male producer, male director, and male star, all trying to show how supportive they are of women.

“There’s a reason that the ‘Me Too’ scandal is detonating in Bollywood,” said Radha. “The conduct I’m seeing from the Bollywood Boys Club arises from the same sexist mindset that devalues women. They’re acting as if I don’t exist, as if my voice doesn’t matter, as if they can take my project from me and get away with it. But I will not be bullied and I will not be silenced.”   

The lawsuit alleges further that even the publicity being done for Mission Mangal seems to be copied from the announcement of Radha’s movie. “I have poured my heart and soul into telling the story of these remarkable women,” said Radha. “I have spent my savings, I have mortgaged my house so that I could tell their story. I have shot a film that captures their indomitable spirit. It is a film that will inspire Indians of all communities, all castes, all faiths, to be proud of their country. It is a film that Indian schoolchildren will hopefully be viewing for generations to come so that they can learn about the great scientists from which they descend. It is a film that will inspire girls, and boys, to study science, technology, engineering and mathematics. It is a film that will cause people all over the world to gain a new respect for India, both ancient India and modern India."

“My film has a powerful message that is delivered in a way that Bollywood, with all due respect, could never deliver it,” said Radha. “It is a message that people are hungry for. I promised these scientists that I would treat their story with the dignity and respect it deserves. I have learned so much from the brilliant women of Mangalyaan,” said Radha. “They have taught me that underdogs can triumph against impossible odds and that you can’t keep a determined woman down.”