'I Feel Cheated,' Says Subhash Ghai

Mumbai, Apr 6 (IANS): Breaking his silence after two successive court verdicts cancelling allotment of land to his Whistling Woods International film academy, veteran filmmaker Subhash Ghai Friday said he "felt cheated by the Maharashtra Government".

"I feel cheated by the Government of Maharashtra when we are told, after ten years of setting up Whistling Woods International at a cost of Rs.75 crore, that our joint venture agreement since the year 2000 is not valid," a hurt Ghai said in a statement here Friday.

He said the reason given (for the cancellation) was that because of a government error 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," Ghai said.

Proving a major setback to Ghai, the Supreme Court two days ago (Wednesday) dismissed an appeal by Mukta Arts Ltd, owned by Ghai, challenging a Bombay High Court ruling cancelling allotment of 20 acres of prime land in Goregaon east for his film academy, Whistling Woods International.

Observing that the entire transaction 'lacked transparency', the apex court said last Wednesday that the application for allotting the land remained in cold storage under three chief ministers and was revived after Vilasrao Deshmukh became the CM and the land was allotted by him.

Last February, the Bombay High Court had quashed allotment of the land for the state-of-the-art world-class film academy, a joint venture between Mukta Arts Ltd and the Maharashtra Films, Stage & Cultural Development Corporation.

Undeterred by the change in the legal status and reduction in size of the land from 20 acres to 5.5 acres, Ghai said he was proud that 500 alumni have passed out since 2006 and are already "very well placed, and 400 are still studying here".

Meanwhile, top industry personalities have come out in Ghai's support.

Eminent filmmaker Shekhar Kapoor said Ghai spent 15 years' time and energy to create 'a centre of learning for film'.

"Whistling Woods International is not a scam. He should be applauded. It is not possible to build educational institutions at current land prices in any city and the government has to allot land for this. Tisch School of the Arts in Singapore is on land given free by the government and now that country's directors are making grade worldwide," Kapoor said.

Another acclaimed film-maker Shyam Benegal said he felt "deeply saddened" by the court verdict in the matter as Ghai had made it his life's mission to create a world class film school.

"Mumbai could now pride itself on having a film school as good as any in the world, and suddenly this. Strange," Benegal lamented.

Reacting immediately after the apex court ruling, Ghai had said: "We are opening branches of Whistling Woods International in many states. My production house Mukta Arts is also carrying on the movie-production business full-steam ahead."


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