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India Newswallah: Bollywood And Organized Crime

Tejwant Singh

Jun 30, 2004
Henderson, NV.
See pictures by clicking the above.

Newswallah: Bollywood and Organized Crime


MUMBAI— The actor Sanjay Dutt, who was sentenced last week to five years in prison for illegal possession of weapons supplied by the masterminds of the 1993 Mumbai bombings, has accepted his sentence and will not apply for a pardon, he said Thursday.

“Just let me be in peace till I surrender,” he begged reporters gathered outside his Mumbai residence. Mr. Dutt was accompanied by his sister, Priya Dutt, a Congress Party member of parliament.

Mr. Dutt’s high-profile case is just the latest example of the tight links between Bollywood, India’s film industry, and Mumbai’s notorious underworld.

While ganglords allegedly finance Bollywood blockbuster movies and use the film industry to launder black money, Bollywood actors have complained openly of receiving threats from underworld gangsters.

Bollywood’s connection to the underworld can be traced back to a government regulation that made the film industry ineligible for bank credit, private equity and other legitimate commercial financing.

“As a result, films were financed by ad hoc collections of investors, many of whom were from the construction and trade industries, who charged interest rates as high as 60 to 100 percent,” said Jehil Thakkar, head of media and entertainment for KPMG.

In 2000, the Indian film industry was added to the list of industries recognized by the government and eligible for bank financing, a move that theoretically should have helped cut its dependence on the underworld.

In 2011, a leaked cable issued by the U.S. consulate in Mumbai, released by Wikileaks, spoke of the film industries’ connection to the underworld.

“The industry also welcomed funds from gangsters and politicians, looking for ways to launder their ill-gotten gains, known in India as ’black money,’ said the cable. “After the government added the film industry to the list of legitimate industries, the corporatization of Bollywood – and the wider entertainment industry – began.”

Gangsters, not surprisingly, enjoy flaunting their Bollywood connections, which serve as a signal of their power in a star-struck nation. Dawood Ibrahim, Mumbai’s top gangster, who moved to Dubai, famously invited Bollywood actors to his parties in Dubai and Sharjah. Whether the film stars attended because they were pressured to or as a matter of choice remains left to speculation.

Though the intertwined nature of Bollywood and crime in India is largely accepted as common knowledge, the magnitude of the problem becomes apparent every so often when a big arrest is made. In 2001, Nazim Rizvi, who produced the film “Chori Chori Chupke Chupke” was sentenced to six years imprisonment along with his assistant, Abdul Rahim Allahbaksh, for “acting as an organized crime syndicate and committing unlawful acts of extortion by targeting film personalities.”

Bharat Shah, the high profile diamond trader who was the film’s financier, was also arrested for withholding information about organized crime and specifically the film producer’s connections to the Pakistan- based gangster Chhota Shakeel. While the court sentenced him to one year in jail, the judge said he would not be required to serve his sentence since he had already spent many months behind bars awaiting his trial.

“In my life I have never done a wrong thing knowingly or unknowingly. If I have committed a crime, I am sorry,” Mr. Shah pleaded to a packed courtroom. “My family and I have suffered a lot of threats from the underworld, but due to fear, I did not complain to the police.”

The then deputy chief minister of Maharashtra told the Associated Press that the arrests were meant to signal that the authorities were cracking down on the links between the underworld and Bollywood.

“We wanted to give a message to people and to Bollywood that even top people will not be spared,” he said.

Writing in Time magazine in 2002, Richard Corliss reports that Abu Salem, the leader a notorious crime syndicate, had boasted to Indian journalists prior to his arrest that he had helped finance Devdas, one of the most expensive Bollywood films ever produced. Mr. Salem was known for his attachment to Bollywood, and had married Monica Bedi, a Bollywood starlet, and named his sons after his favorite actors.

When the phone of Chhota Shakeel, an alleged gangster, was tapped by the local police, they found that he frequently spoke with several actors, directors and producers connected to the Indian film industry, Mr. Corliss wrote. Of the 71 tapes the local police also heard incriminating phone conversations between Chhota Shakeel and Sanjay Dutt, which were then played in a special court in Mumbai in 2002.

Indian movie stars have frequently complained of receiving extortion calls from organized crime operators demanding money and threatening the lives of the actors and their families. In an infamous incident, Abu Salem’s gang threatened the actor Rakesh Roshan. The situation escalated to the point that he was shot and had to be hospitalized to have the bullet removed from his arm. And in 2010 the actor and producer Sajid Nadiadwala said that a group of men, allegedly connected to the alleged gangster Ejaz Lakdawla, had stormed into his office and demanded money. Three other actors, Hrithik Roshan, Govinda and Amrish Puri, as well as the director Karan Johar, received police protection after receiving death threats from the underworld.

In 2011, the Times of India reported that the fugitive gangster Ravi Pujari threatened the actor-producer Sohail Khan, the producer Ritesh Sidhwani and the actor Vivek Oberoi. Police officials said that they had reviewed the security of the victims after the complaints were registered. However, actors receiving threats often avoided seeking police protection. Quoting industry insiders, the Times of India said that in 2011 six film personalities received extortion demands asking for sums up to 50 million rupees, but did not lodge official complaints.

Indian courts cleared Mr. Dutt of charges that he was involved in the actual terror attack on March 12, 1993, when serial blasts across the city had left 257 people dead and 700 injured. But his possession of two illegal firearms resulted in the five year sentence.



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