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Neerja Bhanot's family accuses biopic producers of criminal conspiracy, moves court

'Neerja' family accuses producers of criminal conspiracy, moves court
'Neerja' poster

Accusing the producers of Bollywood blockbuster and national award winning movie 'Neerja' of 'criminal conspiracy' and going back on their word of sharing 10 percent of the net profit, the braveheart flight purser Neerja Bhanot's family has moved the court in Chandigarh

"The entire episode has trappings of a criminal conspiracy between respondent (Bling Unplugged) and Fox Star Studios India Pvt Ltd, who right from the inception of the agreement (between the family and the producers), in a planned manner had dishonestly induced the petitioners and family members of late Rama Bhanot with the intention of wrongful gains to themselves," the petition moved by the family before the Punjab and Haryana High Court has stated.

The court was moved after both sides failed to resolve the money sharing issue and even failed to agree on the appointment of an arbitrator. The matter will be heard in July. The family has moved the petition for appointment of an arbitrator to resolve the dispute.

The family has contended that the producers had, in the agreement made on September 2, 2013, agreed to pay the family a fixed compensation of Rs 7.5 lakh and share 10 per cent of the net profit of the film.

Neerja Bhanot was killed, two days before she would have turned 23, to save passengers during a terrorist-hijack of a Pan-Am flight at the Karachi airport in Pakistan on September 5, 1986.

Neerja, who was the senior flight purser of Pan-Am 73 flight, died in a shootout following the hijack by Palestinian terrorists who had entered the aircraft posing as Pakistani Police personnel with arms and hand grenades.

The hijack left 20 people dead and 150 injured after a bloodbath at the Karachi airport. There were around 200 Indian passengers on the flight, of which 13 died while over 100 were injured.

The film agreement was signed by leading fashion photographer Atul Kasbekar on behalf of his film production company 'Bling Entertainment Solutions Ltd' and the family of Neerja Bhanot.

The petition said the producer produced the film with Fox Star Studios India Pvt Ltd. The movie, made at a cost of Rs 21 crore, generated a revenue of over Rs 135 crore as per market reports.

"However, when it came to paying 10 per cent of the profits, the producer contended that Fox Star Studios were to keep 80 per cent of the profits while Bling was to get the rest. We were offered a pittance which we refused to accept. We were to put the money in a Trust in the name of Neerja and help other people," Aneesh Bhannot, who along with his brother Akhil Bhanot and mother Rama Bhanot (now deceased), signed the agreement, told IANS.

As per the petition, Bling offered just over Rs 24.57 lakh to the Bhanot family in July 2016 as their 10 per cent share which the family refused to accept. The petition states that the producers went on to "exploit the (Bhanot) family and their resources to the hilt".

The film, directed by Ram Madhvani, did well in the Indian and overseas markets and bagged the National Award for Best Hindi Feature Film category at the 64th National Film Awards in April this year, among several other film awards.

Actress Sonam Kapoor, who played the role of Neerja Bhanot, got a special mention by the jury of the National Film awards for her acting.

Kasbekar's Bling Unplugged said last month that profits from "Neerja" were repeatedly offered to the Bhanot family as per the existing contract but they turned it down.

A statement read: "Bling Unplugged had acquired the rights to make 'Neerja' from the Bhanot family. The agreement between Bhanots and Bling clearly spelt out that Bhanots would be paid a fixed upfront amount (which was paid as per the timelines) and a variable amount which was to be computed as a share of net profits that Bling would receive.

"It was always abundantly clear that we would partner with a studio, in this case Fox Star India. The Bhanot family was always aware of the same and have in fact met the studio reps on many occasions. To imply otherwise is simply untrue.

"All financial transactions post release have been shared with the Bhanot family immediately and in a transparent manner. Their share of the profits, which is a share of ours, has been immediately offered," the statement said, adding the Bhanot family's claim was a "retrospective negotiation and not as per what is signed by them years ago".

Following her act of bravery and supreme sacrifice, Neerja was given the Ashoka Chakra, India's highest peacetime gallantry award for bravery, in 1987.

Born in Chandigarh in 1963, Neerja lived with her family in Mumbai when the hijacking took place. Her family is now settled here.

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