Warner Bros, who are hoping to develop their bridgehead in Bollywood, appear to have really shot themselves in the foot by taking legal action against the producers of Hari Puttar – A Comedy of Terrors, starring Jackie Shroff.
It is reminiscent of the case in 1947 when Warner Bros tried to sue the Marx Bros for the use of the title A Night in Casablanca, claiming it was an infringement on the rights of their movie Casablanca, which had appeared five years earlier with Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman.
Groucho wrote the following reply (abridged):
I had no idea that the city of “Casablanca” belonged exclusively to Warner Brothers. However, it was only a few days after our announcement appeared that we received your long, ominous legal document warning us not to use the name “Casablanca”.
I just don’t understand your attitude. Even if you plan on releasing your picture, I am sure that the average movie fan could learn in time to distinguish between Ingrid Bergman and Harpo. I don’t know whether I could, but I certainly would like to try.
You claim that you own “Casablanca” and that no one else can use that name without permission. What about “Warner Brothers”? Do you own that too? You probably have the right to use the name Warner, but what about the name Brothers? Professionally, we were brothers long before you were. We were touring the sticks as the Marx Brothers when Vitaphone was still a gleam in the inventor’s eye, and even before there had been other brothers—the Smith Brothers; the Brothers Karamazov; Dan Brothers, an outfielder with Detroit; and “Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?”
Now Jack, how about you? Do you maintain that yours is an original name? Well it’s not. It was used long before you were born. Offhand, I can think of two Jacks—Jack of “Jack and the Beanstalk,” and Jack the Ripper, who cut quite a figure in his day.
I have a hunch that his attempt to prevent us from using the title is the brainchild of some ferret-faced shyster, serving a brief apprenticeship in your legal department. I know the type well—hot out of law school, hungry for success, and too ambitious to follow the natural laws of promotion. Well, he won’t get away with it! We’ll fight him to the highest court! No pasty-faced legal adventurer is going to cause bad blood between the Warners and the Marxes. We are all brothers under the skin, and we’ll remain friends till the last reel of “A Night in Casablanca” goes tumbling over the spool.
Don’t Warner Bros realize how much ill-feeling this insensitive move is going to create? Has anyone at Warners even read the plot of Hari Puttar – it’s clearly not remotely related to the Harry Potter series and in fact has more in common with the Home Alone series – wake up John Hughes, your missing your chance to sue!! In fact, William Shakespeare should be suing too – that “Comedy of Terrors” thing is a bit too close for comfort.
In the movie, shot in the Yorkshire Dales last year, the hero is not called Hari Puttar. He is in fact called Hari Prasad Dhoonda. However, because he wears glasses and looks a bit like you-know-who, the poor kid has picked up the nickname Hari Puttar from his friends.
Regrettably, this is going to look like nothing more than the big nasty corporate America trying to throw its weight around again. “There is absolutely nothing to link ‘Hari Puttar’ with ‘Harry Potter,'” said Munish Puri, CEO of producer Mirchi Movies. “Hari is a common name in India and ‘puttar’ is Punabji for son,” he said.
The only problem is that Warner Bros (worth $3.5bn) may have misjudged the opposition. Mirchi films is in fact owned by the Times of India, which in turn is owned by Bennett & Coleman (worth about $25bn) – oh boy, their lawyers are bigger than our lawyers!
Any reasonable person would have seen the title as a gentle tongue-in-cheek tribute to the success of the Harry Potter movie series and the JK Rowling books – something to savour – but clearly the legal department at Warners would prefer to present themselves as a bunch of humourless legal geeks – and are quite prepared to generate excruciating PR for their masters in the interests of defending that reputation.