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Atul Kasbekar's Bling Unplugged offers share in profit, but Neerja Bhanot's family declines


The production firm wowed to honour its commitment, but claims that the family also wants a share from the profits earned by distributor Fox Star Studios.

Mayur Lookhar

A year after its release last year, Neerja courted controversy after the family of late flight attendant Neerja Bhanot moved the Punjab and Haryana high court accusing the producers of not honouring their commitment — pledging 10% of the profits towards the Neerja Bhanot Trust and to the family.

Directed by Ram Madhvani, the film was produced by Atul Kasbekar’s Bling Unplugged and distributed by Fox Star Studios.

Bling Unplugged has now issued a statement saying that it is committed to honouring its contractual obligations, but the family has refused to accept the share in profit offered by it and has instead asked for a share in the profit from the share of the distributor – Fox Star Studios.

“Integrity is a very important aspect of Bling's values and Bling is committed to meeting all its contractual commitments. 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. They have declined to accept the same and now wish to get a share of the studio profits. This is effectively a retrospective negotiation and not as per what is signed by them years ago,” Bling Unplugged said in a statement.

As per Bling Unplugged, the demands by Bhanot family are contrary to the stipulation agreed upon between the two parties in their contract. The firm also reiterated that the amount due to the family has been repeatedly offered to the family.

Made at a budget of Rs23 crore, the Sonam Kapoor-starrer biopic on the late Pan Am flight 73 airhostess had grossed over Rs130 crore worldwide. Neerja was voted the best Hindi film at the 64th National Awards. Bhanot, an airhostess with Pan American World Airways, was on board Pan Am 73, which was hijacked by members of the Abu Nidal organisation, an extremist Palestinian group, at Karachi in Pakistan. Bhanot sacrificed her life trying to save the passengers.

Speaking to Cinestaan.com, Anusha Nagrajan, the legal counsel of the Bhanots said, “When they say that the family wants a part of the distributor share, it is not as simple as that. The point is that there was a contract between Bling and the family. These rights were exclusively conferred upon them and under any assignment of any of these rights, there was a protection that whosoever is assigned (by Bling) will still have to be bound by the terms of the agreement. So, the principle obligation upon Bling was to ensure all that.”

When asked why asked why the family turned down the share offered by Bling, Nagarajan repied, "What was offered to the family was not consistent with the terms of the contract, and the family declined it because they believe that they are entitled to a greater share of the net profit. Their arrangement with Fox Star doesn’t safeguard the family’s interest. They entered into an agreement (with Fox Star) where they negotiated a very small share for themselves, that doesn’t mean that you can reduce the family’s share. Bling has effectively compromised on what the family believe is their rightful share."

Efforts to contact members of the Bhanot family did not yield a response.

Here’s the complete statement from Bling Unplugged:

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.

Integrity is a very important aspect of Bling's values and Bling is committed to meeting all its contractual commitments. 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.

They have declined to accept the same and now wish to get a share of the studio profits. This is effectively a retrospective negotiation and not as per what is signed by them years ago.

It is unfortunate that despite having a clear contractual arrangement the Bhanots have decided to dispute the financial understanding at this belated stage.

To reiterate, the amounts due to the Bhanots, as per the existing contract have been repeatedly offered by us to them. To imply anything otherwise, is simply untrue.”