Subhash Ghai’s institute in the woods!

His dream project Whistling Woods Institute faces closure if the court verdict is not in its favour

Written by Namita Nivas | Mumbai | Updated: August 1, 2014 1:00:27 am
The sprawling premise of Whistling Woods International Institute at Film City The sprawling premise of Whistling Woods International Institute at Film City

Film-maker Subhash Ghai’s dream project, Whistling Woods (WW) International Institute; a film, television and media arts institute located in Mumbai has been in a tricky situation since it came into existence in 2006. While the legal hassles have been an on-going process, the latest is that a new campus of Film and Television Institute of India (FTII) will replace WW. The institute has been asked to cough up Rs.92 crore as retrospective rent with interest for 14 years since 2000 and to vacate its land by July 31 as per the Supreme Court order and even shut down its academic classes.
In an attempt to save the prestigious institute, both Ghai and daughter Meghna Ghai Puri, President of the school, are going all out to save not only their dream but also of those students who have passed out and who have enrolled for the present academic year.
Meghna says that while they have been trying to negotiate various options, the government was taking too long to respond. “We decided to go to court with the review petition asking them to review their earlier judgement of vacating the land. We are also debating the payment of rent for 20 acres of land, most of which remains unutilised. They even want us to give them the school building.”
If one recalls, the 20-acre land was allotted to Mukta Arts with a joint venture agreement signed between Maharashtra Stage and Cultural Development Corporation Limited (MFSCDC) and Whistling Woods International Limited.
According to a statement sent by the spokesperson of WW, it was Govind Swarup, MD of Film City Corporation and Ram Krishen More, Minister of Culture way back in 2000, who insisted that Ghai realise his dream at Film City which has 540 acres of land. Ghai agreed and accordingly a resolution was passed and MoU signed by the Minister of Culture. In 2003, a custom-made high-tech building measuring 1.5 lakh sq feet was ready with all permissions taken by Film City Corporation as owners of the land. Problems began when a PIL was filed in court against the Government for granting this land, citing procedural mistakes. The CAG came up with its own calculation with the allegation of under-valuing the land. A notice was sent by the corporation to stop any construction on the remaining 16 acres of land. When Ghai was asked to pay an annual rent for the land under Government rules, he says he accepted in principal, provided a viable proposal under law was sent to him. As per the statement, he says, “We feel bad when we admit new aspiring students today, with a condition that we may not run our institute on this same campus for cinema students after July 31, 2014.”
Meghna, who was felicitated by the famous House of Commons in London by the Skilltree Consortium for shaping a Global Institute in India with world-class educational standard, wonders how building a school could become so controversial. Worried, she says ,a lot of careers are at stake as WW is the livelihood of the teaching and the non-teaching staff members. “We cannot just get up and move somewhere else. As per the agreement, we have given more to the school than we promised. We had promised to invest Rs. 20 crore but ended up investing Rs.100 crore whereas the government had promised us 20 acres of land, we were allowed to build the school only on one side while 15 acres were never allocated to us. So on what basis can they charge us a market rate for that?” she defends the institute which, on a regular basis, gets international students as well as a faculty to teach.
It is not only the top management that is affected but also the students who are worried about the school building. “This is not a college but a second home to all of us with its up-to-date and latest technology,” says Virajas Kulkarni who, having done a course in film-making, is currently specialising in screen writing at the institute. For him every week a film screening is held which is later evaluated by its cast, crew and director along with the students . “Early this week, we had Shekhar Kapur to share his experiences and last week it was Kamal Haasan. We will not get this kind of exposure anywhere else.” Arjun Mogre, a 2009 batch student who presently conducts editing classes and is the secretary at the institute, points out that it is a very holistic film school, with a studio, recording setup, et al and Australian, European, American, French, Japanese film-makers who come, interact and enrich the students. Film-makers like Danny Boyle and other eminent Indian film-makers have conducted classes at the school. “I feel it is a useless piece of land which is being put to good use. So why should it shut down is beyond me?”
Today, Whistling Woods Institute has over 200 alumni students with 92 per cent of them well placed in the industry and 600 students enrolled with them. The judgement on July 31, however, will mark their future.

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