After the High Court verdict to discontinue Whistling Woods International (WWI) at Film City in Mumbai, the poser I am most frequently confronted with is: ‘There must be a scam where the late former Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh favoured you by granting land at a cheap rate.’
I keep explaining, ‘Sir, this was not a deal with Vilasrao Deshmukh-ji but a deal between Mukta Arts and the Maharashtra Film, Stage & Cultural Development Corporation Ltd, whereby we were fully and legally authorised to expand our business and activities independently to develop the film and media industry in India.’
After formalising our joint venture which was mutually agreed upon, the chief minister only signed as a witness because, he felt a high-tech, world-class film institute was necessary in Mumbai as no other filmmaker in the last 90 years had brought such a proposal to the government. But he was never involved in any negotiation or formal decision making process. The joint venture was signed in the year 2000, by Chairman of the Board, Ram Krishnan More, the then Minister of Culture, the remaining members of the board, the managing director of the corporation and State Cultural Secretary, Govind Swarup, with an honest view to contribute to the fast-growing industry in 2000.
Under the joint venture, the corporation gave Whistling Woods a licence to use the land to set up the institute and related infrastructure, and demanded 15 per cent of equity for giving us the space. So the question of valuation of the land never came up for discussion, since it was never for sale or transfer. Mukta Arts invested ` 20 crore initially to construct the building and has ended up investing ` 80 crore to date.
Not many are aware that WWI is still in the red to the tune of another ` 50 crore, for running this expensive four-acre campus. We were barred from using the remaining 16 acres after the first public interest litigation (PIL). Now we face a high order to discontinue Whistling Woods by July 2014 and pay retro rent of ` 79 crore for the use of 20 acres due to internal lapses in paperwork by the corporation to formalise the JV.
We have filed a review petition in the High Court, urging it to reconsider since we are not at fault. The government has also been very supportive of us retaining the WWI campus for the last nine years by an alternative lease model within the law. They formed a steering committee in 2009 to find a solution but a PIL from Latur changed the whole story, which is very unfortunate.
But I am not disheartened because our pioneering vision and honest execution created a world-class brand, the finest in Asia and one that is ranked among the top ten in the world. It was inspired by intellectuals like Sam Pitroda, Kanwal Rekhi, Lord Puttnam and Anand Mahindra and supported by thinkers like Shekhar Kapur, Shyam Benegal, Shabana Azmi, Ashutosh Gowariker and the contribution of the whole industry. More than 130 celebrities have delivered master classes at our institute and more than 1,000 students have been trained and 500 students well-placed.
I am unable to find words to thank my film industry, the media and film associations as well as many of my friends and other individuals who contributed so much towards building this institution. All I can say is that their contribution is much more than that of Subhash Ghai, who simply wanted to give back to the industry.