Iconic 8,000sqft Pali Hill bungalow in property dispute

Written By kom nampultig on Senin, 04 Agustus 2014 | 22.23

MUMBAI: It has featured in the famous garage scenes of Kishore Kumar's 1958 hit 'Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi' and scores of other popular Bollywood movies. Today, the 8,000-square-foot Girnar Bungalow in Pali Hill, which has a sprawling cinema library with rare photographs, books and collections, is at the centre of a property dispute between Sangeet Natak Academy laureate Sushila Rani Patel and the grand-daughter of her late husband Baburao Patel.

Sushila Rani, who passed away on July 24, was the third wife of Baburao Patel, who founded India's first film trade magazine. Patel, who also produced films and was a MP from Madhya Pradesh in the 4th Lok Sabha, bought the Pali Hill bungalow in the 1950s and its rights had passed on to Sushila Rani after his death in 1982.

Now, barely 10 days after her death, the bungalow, which has in recent times been a popular learning place for dance, yoga and music, has turned into a virtual battlefield, with Sushila Rani's disciples and the relatives of the other claimant occupying different floors of the bungalow. While Sushila Rani's will says the bungalow goes to a trust she had set up, her husband's granddaughter from his late second wife Shirin, Geeta Patel-D'Souza, claims she is the legal heir.

According to a police complaint filed by the trustees, immediately after a condolence meeting for Sushila Rani on July 24, Patel-D'Souza and her relatives allegedly moved into the first floor and have since refused to vacate the premises. The trustees claim they are now left protecting the ground floor, though on July 30, Patel-D'Souza's relatives allegedly locked the entry/exit gates of the bungalow. While Patel-D'Souza could not be contacted for comment despite repeated attempts throughout the day, when Mirror visited the bungalow, entry was barred to the first floor by a group of private security personnel.

"Sushila Rani's will clearly says the property will remain with the trust," said Neela Shinde, chairman and managing trustee of the Sushila Rani-Baburao Patel Trust. Shinde alleged that the trustees and disciples are also being intimidated. According to the complaint, D'Souza had in 2011 filed a case claiming rights to the property, but the court as an ad-interim relief had ordered that status quo (Sushila Rani was the sole owner) be maintained.

"We are just trying to ensure that we do the right thing according to the last wishes of Sushila Rani," said Shinde. In their police complaint, the trustees said Baburao had provided land at Andheri, cash, jewellery etc. for Shirin's family when he separated from her. The complaint said Baburao's will was probated in 1990 with the consent of all four children of Shirin, including Geeta Patel-D'souza's father, thus making Sushila Rani the sole owner of the property.

Sushila Rani, who does not have any heirs, had been living alone in her Bandra home since Baburao's death in 1982 and had kept her efforts to encourage classical music alive through the Shiv Sangeetanjali, which was formed by Baburao and her in 1961. Over the years, the organisation, which is now part of the Sushila Rani-Baburao Patel Trust, has featured emerging talents with Sushila Rani herself singing and holding events at Girnar Bungalow.

She even fought legal battles with builders to preserve the house. The bungalow itself is under the shadow of a 12-storey residential building with 28 flats that came up in the late 1990s after Sushila Rani sold a part of the plot.

Among the numerous students that Sushila Rani, the oldest Akashvani artist, has trained are Salman Khan's sister Alvira Khan, filmmaker Kiran Rao and sitar maestro Ustad Alim Khan.

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