The film industry is in a state of shock after the directive of the Supreme Court to cancel the joint ventures between the government of Maharashtra and Mukta Arts, which has set up the world-class cinema and media training institute Whistling Woods International, where more than 300 industry professionals have participated as guest faculty and academy advisory board members. The institute is located at Mumbai’s Film City.
Subhash Ghai, who founded the institute, reacted sharply and in a press release, said: “We feel cheated by government of Maharashtra when we are told after 10 years of setting up Whistling Woods at a cost of Rs. 75 crore that our joint venture agreement in the year 2000 is not valid because of a governmental error that a board resolution was not passed and the land was undervalued. What is our fault? They gave the agreement to us signed by the then MD, Cultural Secretary and Minister of Culture to have a partnership in Whistling Woods Ltd. with share equity and we invested Rs. 20 crore to begin with and we have spent Rs. 75 crore so far with accumulative loss of (Rs.) 45 crore in it. And now we got the harshest punishment because the government is not supporting our case in court.
“Anyway the change in our legal status and reducing the size of land into 5.5 acres can never demoralize us — the faculty, staff and students. We are proud that 500 alumni have already been placed very well since 2006 and 400 are still studying and Whistling Woods has become an international name to reckon with.”
Film-maker Shekhar Kapur stated: “Subhash Ghai gave 15 years of his time and energy to create a center of learning for cinema. Whistling Woods is not a scam and he should be applauded. It is not possible to build educational institutions at current land prices in any city, and the government has to allocate land for this. Tisch film school (Tisch School of the Arts) in Singapore is on land given free by the government and now directors from there are making the grade internationally.”
Shyam Benegal stated: “I am deeply saddened by the verdict of the court. Subhash Ghai had taken upon himself as a mission to create a world-class film school. He worked tirelessly for 13 years to fulfill this dream and finally succeeded in making it happen. Mumbai can now pride itself on having a film school as good as any in the world. And now this – it’s so strange!”
The Film Producers’ Guild of India has sent a letter to the CM of Maharashtra to save WWI.
For those who came in late, the Supreme Court verdict recently upheld the Bombay High Court order quashing the 20-acre land allotted to his film school due to irregularities in the agreement and has given them until 2014 to give up the land. Involved and reprimanded in the judgment was then-Maharashtra CM, Vilasrao Deshmukh, father of Riteish Deshmukh, whose reign saw widespread favors and largesse distributed by him. Ghai had even cast Riteish in two of his films, “Apna Sapna Money Money” and “Paying Guests.” Deshmukh has been also accused of widespread corruption in many other deals.
The filmmaker told a gathering of his loyal students, faculty and others that he believed that he was being made a scapegoat by the current government that is out to discredit the previous one.
“I have never sought political patronage,” he told a Mumbai daily. “I have been getting requests from governments and many previous CMs to build such an institute since the ‘90s. But I neither had the money to invest nor the time.”
It was when he was considering an eight-acre plot in Panvel that he received a call from Govind Swarup, then managing director of Film City, requesting him to get into this now-contentious joint venture. Regrets Meghna Ghai: “Anyone reading the agreement today would say that we were fools. We invested our money in a land that does not belong to us. What happens when the government wants the land back?”