Pooja Entertainment actors, crew reveal trauma of unpaid dues, hope Akshay Kumar-Tiger Shroff will step up: ‘Had to sell house, plead for money from hospital’ |

Pooja Entertainment actors, crew reveal trauma of unpaid dues, hope Akshay Kumar-Tiger Shroff will step up: ‘Had to sell house, plead for money from hospital’ |

Movie making is hard and testing, but those who have worked in films bankrolled by Pooja Entertainment, claim that waiting for their unpaid dues by the production house is soul crushing. They have let go of their houses, endlessly waited for credit messages, made frantic calls while recovering from hospitals, but are yet to be paid for their work, which they put in to mount some of the biggest films of producer Vashu Bhagnani in recent times. The production house’s last release was Akshay Kumar-Tiger Shroff-Starrer Bade Miyan Chote Miyan.

Last week, several crew members accused Bhagnani of non-payment of dues. In an Instagram post, done in collaboration with multiple people, the crew members tagged Pooja Entertainment, producers Vashu Bhagnani and his children, Deepshikha Deshmukh and actor Jackky Bhagnani, detailing their ordeal as “sheer frustration” of those who worked but weren’t paid.

Pooja Entertainment actors, crew reveal trauma of unpaid dues, hope Akshay Kumar-Tiger Shroff will step up: ‘Had to sell house, plead for money from hospital’ |

“The absolute disregard @pooja_ent has and the sheer unprofessional, unethical behaviour that we all have been tolerating for way too long. Being dodged from person to another just to ask for our own money which was promised to be cleared within 45-60 working days post completion which in itself is also unprofessional but the crew graciously agreed as we r a bunch driven by passion for filmmaking.

“But to exploit this passion to such an extent should not be acceptable. There is no hope of getting paid but this post is to make the countless others aware of this fraudulent practices by @pooja_ent @jackkybhagnani @vashubhagnani and vouch to not work with them,” read a post by Ruchita Kamble, who has previously worked as an assistant director on films like Shah Rukh Khan starrer Raees and Zero.

The revelation led to multiple people speaking out publicly against the production house, with Vashu Bhagnani coming on record to deny that he owes people any money. In an interview with Times of India, the producer said if anybody feels that they are owed dues, they should come forward with proper documentations or file a case. The veteran producer also added that if someone still has an issue, they are free to meet him at his office, and he will come up with a resolution within 60 days.

Since the claims first went public, Indianexpress.com spoke to multiple people associated with Pooja Entertainment across departments, who backed their statements, stating that the mood within the crew is of “fear and gloom” as they oscillate between being hopeful of payments coming through and worried about their next EMIs failing if it doesn’t.

Festive offer

‘Arjun Kapoor starrer under scanner’

According to multiple sources Indianexpress.com spoke to, actor Arjun Kapoor, Bhumi Pednekar and Rakul Preet Singh (actor and wife of Jackky Bhagnani) starrer Mere Husband Ki Biwi is the production which has been facing the wrath of several unpaid crew members, who are awaiting their full payment despite the production being completed in 2022.

Focus puller CH Ravi Kumar, who worked on the Mudassar Aziz-directorial, spoke to Indianexpress.com and claimed that the shoot of the film had to be halted over non-payment of crew but was resumed after they were shown a mail by Pooja Films that claimed that they would be paid next month. He shared how he submitted three bills dated 22/11/22, 15/12/22 and then 15/11/23 for his pending payment.

Sab respected log mail follow karta hai toh humne maan liya,” Ravi Kumar said in a teary voice, adding that he only got a part of his payment when he pleaded to clear his dues after his family member fell terribly sick. But the woes didn’t end.

“The balance was Rs 1,56,000. Later, I had an accident in June so I called the person in the production house, who said he would pay me but never did. Then I was given some other number, but again there was no response. I was bedridden for 8 months, I exhausted my insurance money, and borrowed a loan from people to pay my hospital bills. Even from my hospital bed, I kept calling, but I was only given excuses. I am a focus puller, but after the accident, because I can’t walk normally, I am not getting enough work.”Focus puller CH Ravi Kumar.

Focus puller CH Ravi Kumar.One phone call, eventually, made the cut, but not in a manner Ravi Kumar would have appreciated. The focus puller said he submitted his bills, medical reports, and sent a picture of himself from the bed. As a desperate attempt, he called one more person in charge of payments at Pooja Entertainment. “My HoD was shooting with Akshay Kumar on another film, when I called them because the Pooja Entertainment executive spoke to me so rudely while I was still in bed, it just broke me. Then some calls were made and then they paid me Rs 50,000. Rest of the money, Rs 1,06,000 is still unpaid. It is a huge amount for a person like me, I break down frequently because this amount can help me.”

The direction team of a yet to-be-released film of Pooja Entertainment, for example, was paid for five months but the salaries of last two months– approximately Rs 7.5lacs–are reportedly still pending. While there is no confirmed figure, as it is almost impossible to know exactly how many crew members haven’t been paid yet, sources shared that an estimated cost of the crew and vendors which is owed across the board is around Rs 2.5cr.

“We worked on a film which got completed in 2022. We were told we would be getting our salaries after 30 days, but then it was pushed to June, because they were planning to release the said film in July, but even that didn’t happen. Multiple calls from our end went completely unanswered. There were a couple of times when people directly spoke to Jackky, who said he will ensure (the payments are done). He is good with people, so we trusted him.

“But then it was getting too much and there was no response yet again on the status of the payment,” a production source shared. According to the source, while Pooja Entertainment has now asked time till December 2024, they aren’t too hopeful of things changing.

‘Payment structure’

How the industry works in the payment of the crew is by dividing them into Above the Line (ATL) and Below the Line (BTL). The ATL crew includes actors, directors, cinematographers, production designer, editor and others, and their payments are done in trenches. They will get a part of their payment when the film is signed, when it goes on floors, when it wraps up. BTL crew is mostly paid salaries on monthly basis, and they include art team, assistant, direction team, DOPs team. According to sources, nearly 20-30 people of the BTL crew haven’t been paid on the Arjun Kapoor starrer and other Pooja Entertainment films combined.

“We are running on salaries. If the film does well or doesn’t, it has nothing to do with us. Because if a film earns profit, nothing comes to us, it is all for the producers. We are hired for a certain amount of time, for a certain amount of money and now we are owed that money. If you are making a film, you are liable to pay the crew, simple. You can’t just wash your hands off,” the production source shared.

A blanket budget of a direction team–of seven or eight people–on a film would be around Rs 50,00,000 for a shoot of six months. “This is for the entire team, which is what a single hair and make-up artiste of a star would earn for ten days of shoot!” the source added.

‘I have not been paid for Ganapath’

Poster of Ganapath starring Tiger Shroff. Poster of Ganapath starring Tiger Shroff. (Photo: IMDb)

It is not just crew and assistants who worked on projects mounted by Pooja Entertainment voicing out their concerns, but even on-screen talents. Actor Faraz Khan starred in Tiger Shroff-Kriti Sanon-Amitabh Bachchan headlined actioner Ganapath, which released theatrically in 2023 and tanked at the box office. Khan shot the film in London, where he was stationed for almost a month, and started noticing that “something was fishy.”

“I have spent nine years in London myself from 2001-2010 so I understand the city, the culture and from what I saw I knew the enterprise these people were running was for the rebate. And there were many other reasons which made me feel that their heart wasn’t where it was supposed to be,” Faraz said, adding, “I got the feeling that this wasn’t going to be good, and as we proceeded, the whole thing began expanding into a big pile of s**t,” the actor claimed.

Faraz Khan said every time he would check for the status of his payment, he would be told, “Let the film come out. We will pay you before that.” But when Ganapath came and bombed, he knew instantly that there would be trouble.

“There were lots of promises made. ‘Sir, ek hafta dedijiye, do din dedijiye.’ Then they wouldn’t pick my calls. It was a nightmare. I am owed Rs 3,00,000. If you go to their office and show your anger about the non-payment, they have some 15-20 people to keep you out. They don’t talk to you. I haven’t experienced such disrespect in my life. And it stems from the stop. Big stars are laughing their way to the bank. But what about us?”

In the email trail accessed by Indianexpress.com, Faraz Khan first mailed the production house (on October 12, 2023) asking to “process” the fourth and fifth tranches of his fee “immediately” as they are “well past the due date”. In subsequent mails, Faraz is seen repeatedly writing to the production house–and even intimating them about a legal notice on December 22, 2023–concerning the non-payment of his fee.

In one of the earliest emails, the Pooja Entertainment executive says they have forwarded the invoice “to the UK office” and were waiting for them to share the details (October 18, 2023). The production executive then in multiple mails is seen giving him a timeline– but the payments are never made. The last mail from one executive (dated February 6, 2024) stated, “As per our conversation we have discussed, advised and requested you to please wait till the 20th of April to clear your pending dues. It is our endeavour to clear your dues at the earliest and we sincerely thank you for your patience.”

See picture:

The mail exchange of actor Faraz Khan. The mail exchange of actor Faraz Khan.

“The last couple of times I visited their office was November, December and January, every two weeks. The man who was earlier in touch with us for the issue would sometimes not be at the office. Sometimes we would be told that he wouldn’t come down to meet us. And when finally he would meet us, he would say, ‘I have nothing to tell you. You have to wait for the payment.’ Essentially, they told us to wait till Bade Miyan Chote Miyan release as it will be a hit and they’ll get money. How is this even a functioning model?!” Faraz said.

‘The debacle of Bade Miyan Chote Miyan’

In a previous article, Indianexpress.com had reported how the Hindi film industry lost Rs 250 cr when two films which clashed at the box office, Maidaan and Akshay Kumar-Tiger Shroff starrer Bade Miyan Chote Miyan, bombed at the box office. A trade source had shared, “Bade Miyan Chote Miyan was mounted at Rs 350 cr. The makers of BMCM are hoping for a rebate from the UK government to scale down the losses, but the overall number would still be in that range– with Bade Miyan Chote Miyan having a bigger share of loss.”

One of the major reasons for the high budget was also the star fee, trade critic Komal Nahta had shared, revealing, “Akshay Kumar charges Rs 100 cr plus, and the entire business of Bade Miyan Chote Miyan will stop at Rs 60 cr. So, what is he charging Rs 100 cr for? Tiger Shroff charged some Rs 35-40 cr for this film. For what?!”

The crew members Indianexpress.com spoke to shared how they were all given a timeline of Bade Miyan Chote Miyan release, as the last resort, which would help in clearing the dues. But what puts things in perspective is the biting disparity between the star fee and the struggle of those who work for them to be the heroes on screen.

“Ok I agree the film ran in losses, but when was it released? April. How is my payment for the work I did before that linked?” CH Ravi Kumar said. “Paisa nahi hai toh film kyu kar rahe ho sir, how can your losses kill our stomach? I cry on bed every day when I think how I still have to fight for my own money and now with my accident, even the work opportunities have dipped. How can they not feel our pain?

“All the stars were paid right? Akshay Kumar and all was given full, so why not us? I hope they speak for our causes. They get their payments but won’t talk for us workers who make their movies happen. A spot boy, who gets some Rs 1,000 a day, still hasn’t been paid. How is that fair?”

Bade Miya Chote Miyan Poster of Bade Miya Chote Miyan. (Photo: PR Handout)

A production source, who supplies camera and other equipment to film crew, spoke to Indianexpress.com about how some of their team members are yet to be paid money to the tune of Rs 7 lakhs. “The payment of the star’s entourage is always cleared, so that the actors don’t refuse their next film, never speak out against them and never be honest about the situation. But it’s the workers who are scared. It is the prayers of ours which has perhaps led to this, where people are finally talking about it.”

The insider shared how “pressure can build” if the actors, who regularly team up with Pooja Entertainment, come out and “speak up”. Post pandemic, Akshay Kumar has starred in three films of the production house (Bellbottom, Mission Raniganj and Bade Miyan Chote Miyan) while Tiger Shroff had two projects, Bade Miyan Chote Miyan and Ganapath.

“But they won’t because they clear their payments on time. But they won’t clear the payment of a poor light man, who won’t even earn a fraction of what the star pockets. Stars charges crores of rupees, but you are holding back money of a light man who charges thousand per day. Which is why you never see any of the actors speak up.”

Actor Faraz Khan, who was promised money after the release of the film, shared that he went to Pooja Entertainment’s office after Bade Miyan Chote Miyan hit the screens. “I saw several trucks parked behind its huge poster covering the entire office. Everybody was packing their bags and leaving in a rush. The entire office was basically empty.”

CH Ravi Kumar said he was also a part of Pooja Entertainment’s Jawaani Jaaneman, where he got money after “a lot of delays” but was glad that at least the payment came through. “Then I worked in Bade Miyan Chote Miyan for five days in Abu Dhabi and two days in Mumbai, for which I was paid because we were hired through the director Ali Abbas Zafar (who was also the co-producer). He is a superb person, and one of the best I have worked with in the industry. I was the third focus puller. But there were other crew members on the film, but they haven’t been paid.”

‘Can you go legal?’

The production source shared it is impossible for a daily wage earner to file a case against production, due to financial constraints. “How can a light man, who charges Rs 1,500 a day, hire a lawyer to fight against them? They know no one will do that because just the thought of taking them on breaks the crew. Even if one goes through union, the matter is ‘settled’ with you being paid half.”

The source, who worked on an unreleased Pooja Entertainment film, said he was under “tremendous financial pressure” and pleaded multiple times to release his payments but that never happened.

“Imagine if you work for 50 days but then you are not paid… What is the use? How can one run their house? I had a lot of EMIs on me, I had to sell my house to clear it, but they didn’t pay me. I even told them that my situation was so bad I had to give up my house, but they were unmoved. A lot of people quit mid shooting because they were not prompt with money. Not just in Mumbai, even the workers in Delhi are looking for them because they haven’t paid even them.”

The production source shared a lot of times a production team delays their agreement and since some of the workers come on board on freelance basis, they aren’t even handed over the signed agreement copy.

“Even if they pay you your money, the wait is so back breaking that you’d settle for any amount they pay. After two years, when you knock their doors with exhaustion, they will tell you to do a settlement and offer you fifty percent of the money. People are scared to speak up for the fear of being blacklisted.  Long ago something like this had happened with us, but we halted the shoot and took our money. We were only not paid for the last schedule.

“This time, we were promised nothing like this would happen as there is a new team in place. But this is how it rolls out: They hire new heads for every project, so that you can’t track them. Because if you call the contact for money, he will inform you that he has quit. Now, you have to find out a new number and then there will be more waiting, bill submissions all over again. In the last six films, multiple people have not been paid. If you randomly ask 100 workers if they’d work in their production, 85 will refuse. We won’t work with them, but they know they will find new people, and so the cycle goes on,” he added.

Pooja Entertainment response

Indianexpress.com reached out to the representative of Vashu Bhagnani and Pooja Entertainment for a comment on the non-payment of dues, but there was no response. Shortly afterwards, however, a press statement was released where Vashu Bhagnani thanked Akshay Kumar and said the actor was the “first person to call me and say not worry and let him know if there was anything to do.”

“He lent his unconditional support. I also got calls from Sunny Deol, Suniel Shetty, and also my old friend David Dhawan. I am really moved by everyone, they are people who stick by you. I love the film industry, it is my jaan. There are still very emotional people in this industry who stick by you through thick and thin,” Bhagnani said in the statement.

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