Bollywood director is charged with cover-up after young British filmmaker dies in India

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The Independent Culture

Nadia Khan was already fulfilling her lifetime's ambition. Despite graduating only last year with a degree in film studies she found herself in Bombay working as an assistant producer on her first Bollywood movie, alongside a well known, if controversial, director.

Nadia Khan was already fulfilling her lifetime's ambition. Despite graduating only last year with a degree in film studies she found herself in Bombay working as an assistant producer on her first Bollywood movie, alongside a well known, if controversial, director.

But the 26-year-old was struck and killed by a train as, script in hand, she cued in actors on a walkie-talkie during the first night of five days of filming at one of the city's teeming railway stations.

Her death has shed light on the dangers of working in Bollywood's booming but largely unregulated film industry and could result in the imprisonment of one of its most prominent directors.

Kaizad Gustad, and his assistant Ashish Udeshi, appeared in court yesterday accused of covering up the aspiring filmmaker's death. It is claimed they were illegally shooting on location at a busy railway line rather than the decommissioned stretch of track they had been licensed for. The men were refused bail and face 10 years in jail if convicted after the judge added a charge of culpable homicide to the allegations that they filed a false police complaint and suppressed information.

It is alleged the director ordered 11 of his crew members to tell the police and hospital authorities that Miss Khan had been killed by a lorry.

Unsolicited by Miss Khan's family, Mr Gustad, 36, accompanied her body back to London within 24 hours of the accident, and paid tribute to her at the funeral. The two had met in London four years ago, finding common ground in a mutual love of film.

The family grew suspicious when Mr Gustad first told them she had been hit by a car and then by a lorry. It was only after the ceremony at Hainault in Essex, that he revealed she had been struck by a train. He then refused to discuss the case before returning to India. Later the family learnt that, contrary to his claims, he had been present at the time of her death.

Miss Khan's father, Mohammad Mazir Khan, said he now plans to sue the director for negligence. "He shouldn't do this to anybody else again," Mr Khan said.

Mr Gustad's directorial career has floundered of late. His last film Boom, starring Salman Rushdie's partner, Padma Lakshmi, was a financial flop and a critical disaster. The latest project, Mumbai Central, was lagging behind schedule after delays in getting permission to film on railway property.

Yesterday, Miss Khan's family spoke of their sense of loss and anger at her death. One of her three sisters, Huma, 27, said: "We owe it to her memory to find out the truth of what happened. She was so happy to be doing what she wanted to do. She had gone ahead and pursued her dream of being involved in films. She had a passion for filmmaking but was always there for us, going to great lengths to make us happy.

There has been mounting concern in the Indian film industry after a series of high profile crew deaths. More than 800 films are produced in India every year, many of which employ "guerrilla" production techniques. The films tend to be local dialect or crossover English language productions and account for the majority of India's output, said Asjad Nazir, showbusiness editor of Eastern Eye.

Safety procedures can be non-existent and crews often operate uninsured. Even big-budget films have been hit by accidents. Last year's spectacular Line of Control and Sanjay Leela Bhansali's highly acclaimed love story Devdas were also hit by accidents, Mr Nazir said. The International Indian Film Academy has instituted a foundation to raise money for people left incapacitated after accidents on film sets.

According to Bombay's public prosecutor P.N. Rane, one crew member came forward to explain the cover-up after "listening to his conscience".

Actor, Vijay Raaz, who plays a gangster on the film said he saw the accident. "I heard Nadia being hit by the train. It was really shocking. The unit members rushed and picked her up and took her to hospital."

Another witness at Mahalaxmi station, where the accident happened, said: "A train on track number four was headed towards Churchgate and I saw her being pushed by the train."

Miss Khan was taken to nearby Nair hospital where she died from multiple head injuries. It was here the cover-up is alleged to have begun. Two crew members told medics she had been hit by a truck whilst crossing the road to buy cigarettes - a claim they later repeated to police. Their story was corroborated by a railway police officer. But investigating officers became suspicious when they failed to find any witnesses to the incident.

Magistrate Usha Iyer ordered Mr Gustad to remain in custody for interrogation until 10 June. The director has said that he welcomes the investigation and claims his crew voluntarily went to the police.

But Judge Iyer asked: "It is known that a running train can knock down a person, causing death. When the director had this knowledge, why did he allow Nadia to go on the track?" It is a question to which her family intends to find an answer.

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