LAST year, in his den at suburban Bandra, Thackeray released the album of the Bobby Deol-Aishwarya Rai starrer Aur Pyar Ho Gaya featuring Nusrat Fateh Ali. Last month, the launch
of Subhash Ghai's Taal was graced by the supremo's nephew Raj Thackeray and daughter-in-law Smita Thackeray. A few days ago, the bejewelled bahu was spotted at the premiere of Yash Johar's Duplicate. Subservient superstar Shah Rukh Khan, who normally doesn't give in to such actions, was seen paying obeisance with a public peck on her cheek. The writing on the screen was obvious: That Bollywood is bowing to the Shiv Sena.
For a long time, Dubai-based don Dawood Ibrahim had a free run of filmdom. But Sena-controlled unions served as a forum for frightened filmmakers to run to. Then, the Maharashtra Cable Sena strode into the cable scene, even blocking the beaming of Pakistan TV in Muslim mohallas which Cable Sena chief R. Keni dubs "mini-Pakistan".
Thackeray, meanwhile, played the role of master mediator. Music director Nadeem was apparently told to lay off Mala Sinha's daughter Pratibha. A Dawood-loyalist producer who supposedly threatened to bump off Govinda was sent packing. Even the Subhash Ghai-Mahima Chowdhury rift was allegedly laid to rest by the supremo.
But the Sena also creates problems for those who refuse to toe their line. "Smita has become a flashy fixture at every do and God help those who don't include a member of the family in the invite list," says an industry insider. Even the press isn't spared. The 1997 Filmfare Awards came to a halt at midnight, 15 minutes after Raj left the venue: supposedly because the mighty Times group had forgotten to lend a personal touch to their invitation. "The panic-stricken Response chief was pleading with Shatrughan Sinha,
Rajesh Khanna and Sunil Dutt to rescue the show because the main awards had not yet been given. A call to Raj ensured that the last part of the programme passed through. By that time, the crowds had left, only TV viewers saw it. This when the Indian Express group's Screen Awards, held 20 days before the Filmfare Awards, at the same venue, went on till 2 am," a source informed. Says Chhagan Bhujbal: "You have to say salaam to Thack-eray. The film industry is faced with extortion from the underworld and the Sena. With the underworld these poor fellows can go to the police, but who can complain against the Sena?"