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Stars turn back on Vedanta

Mumbai, Feb. 29: Vedanta group’s image-makeover exercise has received a setback with two prominent film personalities — actor Gul Panag and director Shyam Benegal — pulling out as jury members for a short film competition being sponsored by the industrial house.

The two, along with advertising agency Ogilvy’s South Asia executive chairman Piyush Pandey, were to be jury members for the Creating Happiness Film Competition, judging 38 films made by 114 filmmakers from 21 colleges.

The films shot in various locations, including Jharsuguda and Lanjigarh in Odisha and Korba in Chhattisgarh, centre around the impact on the people through programmes, including livelihood, healthcare and sanitation and education, brought about by the group projects, says the company website.

The group, which has set up an alumina refinery and a smelter plant in Kalahandi and Jharsuguda districts, has invested around Rs 40,000 crore in Odisha. However, it has been facing problems in the state with its refinery expansion plan yet to get the Centre’s nod.

Around 500 students, who were receiving free education at DAV school, Puri, courtesy Vedanta, also appear to have become victims of the uncertainty haunting the group in Odisha. The parents of the students today met the Puri collector and complained that there had been no free books and bus service for their children this year though the company had promised to sponsor their education up to Class X. The children belong to the families displaced by the group’s projects.

Mumbai-based lawyer-cum-activist Kamayani Mahabal, after watching the television commercial already on air on Vedanta group themed “Creating Happiness” on a young tribal girl of Rajasthan and the positive changes brought about by the group, began an online petition against TVC, a television channel.

Kamayani also wrote open letters to Benegal, Pandey and the participants of the competition, urging them to withdraw from the contest alleging human rights violations against the tribal people of Kondh. She also alleged that the competition was to enhance the image of Vedanta as a “benevolent saviour and protector”.

The website for the contest, which included the names of Gul and Benegal as jury members for the Jury Award category, has since removed the two names, continuing with Piyush Pandey as the person, who will head the jury. Mahabal said Pandey had not given any response to the letter, but a film director, Gorakshanath, the only entrant from the Film and Television Institute of India in Pune, had also withdrawn from the competition.

Benegal confirmed to The Telegraph that he had initially agreed to be a jury member, but later said no to judge the competition. “I was told about the short films being made by young filmmakers, which was why I was excited about judging the competition. I had agreed to be a part of it originally, but said no soon after. My basic belief did not allow me to say yes,” he said.

Gul, too, had initially accepted, but later pulled out. “No, from what I know it’s a short film competition. Doesn’t involve making films on/for Vedanta,” she had initially tweeted in a response to a query on her participation on February 19. “My bad. Just got full details. I wasn’t aware that the competition was part of #vedanta glorification /PR Have pulled out (sic),” she later tweeted as a response on February 20. The website for the film states: “Vedanta will ensure all logistical support for the teams, including travel from the college to the location of shooting, local travel, boarding and lodging. A local Vedanta team will accompany the students during the filmmaking process.”

The films for the competition will be judged in two categories, one by the jury and another based on the votes received by the films on Youtube.

The films, which were shot in three schedules in December, will be screened in Mumbai in April and the best compilation will also be taken various film festivals.