Subhash Ghai has got some reprieve. On Wednesday evening, Bollywood’s showman heaved a sigh of relief when the Bombay High Court admitted his review petition and allowed him to continue operations in his film school, Whistling Woods International (WWI), till a verdict is arrived at in the case.
(From left) Screenwriter Javed Siddique, acting legend Kamal Haasan, filmmaker Subhash Ghai and Rahul Puri, MD, Mukta Arts, at a convocation ceremony at Whistling Woods International earlier this month. Pic/Satayjit Desai
While no one from Ghai’s office was available for comment, sources say that the court has admitted his review petition and allowed WWI to continue with its operations on its Film City campus. The students are said to have welcomed this decision and are relieved that their courses will not be hampered now.
(From left) Designer Neeta Lulla, filmmaker Vikramaditya Motwane, actor-filmmaker Roshan Abbas, Rahul Puri, MD, Mukta Arts, and media consultant Tarun Tripathi during a panel discussion at the institute
When contacted, Mangesh Mohite, Joint Managing Director, Film City Studio, confirmed the news. He said, “The court has granted Ghai interim relief by allowing him to operate on his WWI campus — which stands on a 5.5 acre land — till the verdict is announced."
(from left) Filmmaker Subhash Ghai is seen here with Bollywood superstar Amitabh Bachchan, flute maestro Pandit Hari Prasad Chaurasia and santoor exponent, Pandit Shivkumar Sharma. Last year, they were given lifetime achievement awards by Ghai’s institute
He added, “The court has asked them to deposit around Rs 10 crore, out of which Rs 1.38 crore has to be paid within the next 10 days."
It may be noted here that Film City Studio served a notice to WWI on July 14 asking them to vacate the premises and pay a retrospective rent amounting to Rs 91 crore. Ghai then moved the High Court seeking stay on vacating the premises by filing a review petition and pleading the court to save his film school.
The Whistling Woods International campus
It may be pointed out that in the last few days, the industry had come out in support of Ghai. While Karan Johar and Hirith Roshan made a last-ditch effort to request the intervention of Prithviraj Chavan, Shyam Benegal too had written to the Maharashtra CM. On July 21, the filmmaker wrote to Prithviraj Chavan pleading to not close down the institute.
In the letter, he wrote, “To close down an internationally recognised and reputed educational institution of the country, apart from FTII, would be an unimaginable disaster.” He also wrote, “It is difficult to understand why an institution that has received support from the Maharashtra government is now being treated so summarily. It brings credit neither to the Maharashtra government nor the nation as a whole. It seems unjust to close down what is surely among the best educational institutes devoted to the study of cinema and TV.”
Brief history of the case
In 2000, the Film City Board passed two resolutions accepting and approving the WWI concept and project in principle. An MOU was signed in September that year. The bhoomi poojan for the building was done in 2001.
In 2003, a PIL was filed against the government for granting this land with procedural mistakes. The Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) alleged that the land price was undervalued. Ghai claimed that the land was neither sold nor transferred but was granted to be used for a specific purpose under a joint venture with the government. Ghai was then sent a notice to stop construction on the remaining 15 acres of the open land in Film City and an affidavit was filed by the government to modify the JV into a lease model where Ghai would pay an annual rent.
Six years later, Ghai was told by the government that it could not find any provision to accept their lease model. Ghai claimed to have spent around R80 crore on the project and that he was in debt upto Rs 52 crore. A PIL was then filed against the then chief minister of Maharashtra, Vilasrao Deshmukh, by farmers from Latur for misusing his power in allotting the land to WWI in 2000.
On his part, Ghai pleaded innocent in court, but the High Court pointed out procedural mistakes by the government and asked Mukta Arts to return the 14.5 acres of vacant land.
The institute was asked to vacate the remaining 5.5 acres, on which it stands, by July 31, 2014. In response, Ghai moved the Supreme Court but was met with rejection, after which he went back to the Bombay High Court.