If looks could kill …

S.Madhusudhana Rao

A Chinese man has taken the catchphrase “ if looks could kill ” to a new level –both literally and legally. According to an Associated Press report from Beijing, the unnamed Shanghai person has filed a case against China’s most popular and richest movie star Zhao Wei in Shanghai Pudong New District Court seeking unspecified damages.

S.Madhusudhana Rao

S.Madhusudhana Rao

Reason? The star’s stare in a TV reality show! The story revolves around a young couple which is divided over educating/teaching its daughter. While the wife wants to adopt a stricter approach, her husband is more inclined towards giving the kid freedom to study and play. The daily clashes between father and mother (played by Zhao in the series) invariably lead to unpleasant situations. Zhao as ‘Tiger Mom’ has obvious menacing looks that have troubled the Shanghai man.

In his plaint, he has alleged that her (Zhao) stare caused him “spiritual damage.” Whatever it means, we don’t know whether the court has admitted the man’s petition, apparently filed after giving much thought to the “stare of the tigress” in the TV show which went on air last month. But his case is a classic example of how people drag popular public figures to courts and involve them in legal tangles on frivolous grounds.

While the Zhao case is making news in China which has recently eased rules concerning the filing of lawsuits, we are no strangers to such cases. In fact, we often wonder why Indian courts, already burdened with millions of civil and criminal cases, entertain irrelevant complaints/allegations and waste court time. Sometimes, these cases reach high courts and even the Supreme Court. A few years ago, the apex court, vexed over torrents of frivolous lawsuits, has suggested a 3000 per cent increase in the cost imposed on a person leveling ludicrous charges against another. The highest court of the land wanted to curtail the flood of frivolous cases foisted on celebrities either to victimize them or gain personal publicity.

In the Indian context, people turn legal eagles either to see their faces flashed on the TV or see their names in print, although the prolonged court battles rarely bring them victory.

Cases are innumerable. One has to maintain a diary to keep a tab on oddballs who rush to the nearest court of law to file a petition against somebody or something which in the petitioner’s view and perception is objectionable or a particular community’s sentiments are hurt.

While among the targeted lot are celebrities and VIPs, film folks are more vulnerable. They have to watch every word they speak and every step they take, at least when they are dealing with public. Their dialogues in cinema and their film titles come under intense scrutiny. How many times movie names have been changed, scenes retaken, dialogues rewritten and locations changed not to ‘hurt’ the feelings of hundreds of communities, castes and sub-castes in this country?

Dress is another issue that literally raises heat and dust. Standards differ; so are the codes. Bare minimums and skin shows are acceptable on the screen, but not in public. They are an insult to Indian culture and traditions. So, anyone who thinks he is the guardian of ancient Indian values can pull the lead actress to court alleging her attire is an insult to Indian womanhood. Cultural-traditional ‘effrontery,’ is only a part of our frivolous litigation the legal system has to deal with. Politics, for example, is another minefield.

However, none and no other country in the world can beat the US in odd legal cases which, according to estimates, account for billions of dollars in civil suits. These are as bizarre as frivolous, but make interesting reading. A few picks:

A 70-year-old American woman got $600,000 in damages from McDonald’s in 1992 for serving piping hot coffee which spilled and scalded her groin. An Israeli woman had got a thousand dollar from a TV station for making a wrong weather prediction. On the other hand, a truck driver who went high on beer to see two beautiful blondes in front of him as advertised by the company lost his claim for compensation when none had materialized.

If every promotional ad on TV in India is not taken on its face value, and if they are legally challenged, sure, the entertainment industry will go bust!

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