The father of a deceased producer and friend of Michael Jackson’s has sued the entertainer’s estate, claiming he’s been denied the opportunity to make a tribute film to Jackson under a contract his son had with the late singer.
Sharad Chandra Patel, whose son Raju Patel produced Bachelor Party, a 1994 version of The Jungle Book and The New Adventures of Pinocchio and was a Jackson friend, filed suit Thursday in Los Angeles Superior Court to enforce a creditor’s claim that was rejected by the Jackson estate. Patel alleges that his son, who died of cancer in 2005, had a film company with Jackson called Neverland Entertainment and that a 2002 contract provides that all proceeds from their films will be split 50-50.
When Jackson was arrested and charged with child molestation in 2003, Raju is said to have stayed loyal to his friend and business partner. After the scandal subsided, Jackson is said to have wanted to make a film dedicated to the millions of fans who also stood by him during the controversy, and a 2005 contract signed three months before Raju died provided that Raju and Jackson would make Messages to Michael, “a tribute to Michael and his loyal fans.” That contract, which includes language saying Raju “or his nominee” could make the film with Jackson “or his nominee,” then allegedly was assigned from Raju to his father Sharad (who also is a producer) before the son died.
In the six years since Jackson died, Sharad has been trying to get access to Jackson’s music and personal effects in order to make the film but has been shut out by estate executors John Branca and John McClain.
“Michael wanted to create a film tribute to the dedicated fans who stood by him during difficult times when many others turned their backs on Michael,” the lawsuit reads. “Michael trusted his good friend and filmmaker, Raju, to make the film a reality.” But Branca and McClain “have disregarded the terms of the agreement, as well as Michael’s wishes for his fans, because [they] are simply motivated by the biggest payday.”
Patel alleges his son’s contract with Jackson entitles him to make the film with the Jackson estate’s cooperation. Instead, the estate chose to partner with Sony on the 2010 documentary film This Is It, which included never-before-seen footage of Jackson. The estate is alleged to have collected “a 90 percent share of film profits” from This Is It, much more than the 50-50 split it would have obtained if it had cooperated with Patel’s film under the contract with Jackson.
In 2010, Patel filed a creditor’s claim against the estate. Five years later, on Sept. 3, it finally was denied. Now, “Sharad is seeking access to pre-existing materials, including music rights and home video footage, promised under the agreement now owned by Michael’s estate for use in the film,” the complaint says.
“Yet another meritless lawsuit filed against the Jackson Estate,” said estate attorney Howard Weitzman.
Patel is represented by well-known Hollywood litigator Larry Stein.