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Settling Scores

Nadeem's alleged hand in the Gulshan murder reinforces the film-mafia nexus

Settling Scores

BOLLYWOOD had barely recovered from Gulshan Kumar's killing when Mumbai police chief R.H. Mendonca made the shocking revelation that the cassette king had been murdered at the behest of his one-time protege, noted music director Nadeem Akhtar. More than ever before, the film industry's links with the underworld stood exposed. With one Bollywood star after another being questioned by the police, it became evident that but for a handful, everyone had brushed shoulders with the dons and thronged lavish parties hosted by Dawood Ibrahim in Dubai.

At the core of the investigation is the June 12 bash in Dubai of the inauguration of drug smuggler Vicky Goswami's Royal Empire Hotel. According to the police, it was at this party that Nadeem hatched the plot to kill Gulshan and hired the services of the Abu Salem gang. The police have recovered cheques for Rs 35 lakh—issued by Nadeem—from the six members of the Abu Salem gang arrested in Mumbai after the killing. The police are hawking the cheques as clinching evidence.

In an effort to unravel the plot, the police have decided to question all those who attended the Dubai extravaganza. The star list includes Shah Rukh Khan, Boney Kapoor, Salman Khan, Chunkey Pandey, Jackie Shroff, Atul Agnihotri and Deepti Bhatnagar. The police, it is reliably learnt, will also question other Bollywood stars who have flocked to Dubai in the past.

Though Mendonca and his team are being given much credit for cracking the case, no one is willing to come on record as to why the police chief held a press conference on September 2 to announce that Nadeem was behind the murder. Home ministry officials in Delhi were surprised at the manner in which the Mumbai police jumped the gun. The timing of the announcement was such that it gave Nadeem, in London, ample opportunity to evade the police. The Mumbai police have sought Interpol's help to arrest the music director.

At the time of going to press, Scotland Yard was still scrutinising the request. It has to be convinced that the Indian case is sustainable in a British court before it arrests and extradites Nadeem. But the composer's visit to a solicitor's firm in London rather than to a travel agent seems to suggest that Nadeem is toying with destinations other than India where his arrest is inevitable.

Nadeem has been telling journalists that he is "absolutely innocent", the police charges are "untrue" and that he's being "framed". His cousin Nazish Chouglay, with whom he is staying in London, says that Nadeem "is preparing to leave for Mumbai". But if that was the case, there would have been no need to hire the services of an expensive solicitor.

Mumbai police's experience in British courts is no source of comfort. The extradition of Iqbal Memon for the Mumbai blasts case lasted a few clumsy moves before a Bow Street magistrate dismissed it. The legal path being a twisted and difficult one, it remains to be seen if the Mumbai police can bring back Nadeem.

According to industry sources, Nadeem, who along with Shravan have scored the music for films produced by members of the Thackeray family, has been trying to contact the Sena chief in the hope that he can provide some relief. Nadeem, of course, must have the Sunjay Dutt episode in mind to seek Thackeray's help. Once the Sena chief openly backed Sunjay Dutt, who had been arrested after the Bombay serial blasts for possessing an AK-56, the tide turned in his favour. Also, it is reliably learnt that prominent members of the film industry now being summoned for questioning by the police are toying with the idea of seeking Thackeray's help to make their interaction with the police a private affair, away from the media glare.

The buzz in the industry that Nadeem or perhaps some other business rival of the cassette king was behind the killing began no sooner than news of the gruesome death trickled in. Just a few days prior to August 13, Gulshan Kumar had said irritably: "This Nadeem will be the death of me". Apparently, Nadeem had enquired if he had received any calls from Abu Salem. A fact corroborated by the Meerut IGP Vikram Singh in whom Gulshan confided.

The police, too, zeroed in on Nadeem's trail. Two days after Gulshan Kumar was cremated in Delhi, the Mumbai office of Super Cassettes was a flurry of activity. All files pertaining to Nadeem had been asked for by the police, the flamboyant music director's family was being interrogated, partner Shravan's family wasn't spared either. But lacking evidence, the police did not wish to name Nadeem just then.

The probe on Nadeem was perhaps inevitable, given that he had bragged to friends and associates that he would teach his former mentor a lesson. Of late, Gulshan, who gave Nadeem-Shravan their break with Aashiqui, sidelined the duo and refused them assignments. Nadeem was already in the bad books of the T-series boss over his alleged conflict with singer Anuradha Paudwal, who was very close to Gulshan Kumar. Nadeem also chose to believe his video album Hai Ajnabi flopped because of indifferent promotion by T-series.

Predictably, the industry has been quick in its defence of Nadeem. Most vocal has been long-term friend Shravan. "I understand that Nadeem's name features in the allegation. He is my friend, partner, brother. I have known him for 25 years. We have reached this far after so much struggle. I am sure he is innocent. I can't believe that these allegations are being made of a man who is even scared of cockroaches." But police sources confirm Nadeem's underworld links. Described as "brash" by those who knew him, he often flaunted his Dubai connections. But very few in the industry are willing to accept that Nadeem executed his threat. "I am spellbound," was the flustered comment of the otherwise articulate Mahesh Bhatt. Having worked with both Gulshan and Nadeem, on hits like Aashiqui and Dil Hai Ki Maanta Nahin, Bhatt, like the rest of the industry, fails to comprehend the turn of events.

 A defensive K.D. Sheorey, general secretary of the Film-makers' Combine, insists the underworld links of a few personalities shouldn't be used to malign the reputation of the entire industry. "It was public knowledge that Nadeem was visiting the D-gang. But the suggestion that the murder was motivated by Nadeem's fear that Gulshan Kumar was out to wreck his career seems unfounded. After Raja Hindustani, Nadeem was very much in demand."

THOUGH he defends Nadeem, Sheorey admits certain people in the industry have links with the underworld. "There are various degrees of involvement. I can say for sure that there are about four people in all who may be involved with the underworld. The soft-spoken Sajid Nadiadwala, Shashilal Nair, Javed Siddiqui and Mukesh Duggal. The last two, as everybody knows, had to pay for their links. But with the other two, one may debate the nature of involvement. It's purely financing, nobody would suggest Nadiadwala would be involved in anything murkier." Even so, his kin Habib Nadiadwala was a key organiser of the infamous June 12 bash and has been questioned by the crime branch.

The probe into Nadeem's role has put the entire industry under a microscope. The police are keen to look into the level of its financial links with the underworld. The police dossier on the industry says Sudhakar Bokade, a loader with Air-India who turned a film producer, has clear links with the underworld. Xavier Marquis, an Alemao Churchill man, undeterred by drug smuggling cases against him, financed the Ajay Devgan-Twinkle Khanna starrer Itihaas. Bobby Anand, a small-time film man, suddenly became a pioneering hotshot distributor. The money-obsessed industry completely ignored his connection with Dawood's brother, Anees.

When Sudhakar Bokade's Kalinga was stuck, he had fumed in columnist Jyoti Venkatesh's Jawab Do programme on El TV that Dilip Kumar had gone over budget and had literally blackmailed him into including a song and a few more scenes. But, as a source explains, Dawood is a fan of the thespian and had allegedly told Bokade to accept his terms. It is an open secret that Mukesh Duggal's finances for Dil Ka Kya Kasoor (Divya Bharti), Gopi Kishen (Sunil Shetty), Milan (Jackie Shroff and Manisha Koirala), and Sunjay Dutt-starrer Fateh flowed from D-gang coffers. It's alleged that when Dawood and Chotta Rajan split up, Duggal shifted his allegiance to the latter. A reported dispute over a Lokhan-dwala flat led to his murder.

The Bollywood music industry, too, isn't averse to using the mafia when it suits it. Explains columnist Venkatesh: "When companies cannot legitimately reach markets closed to them, like Pakistan, they use the underworld to smuggle in their pirated tapes into these countries." Indeed it is not easy for the industry to shrug off this nexus. Recently, charges were levelled against Mamta Kulkarni for having used a foreign hand to get herself reinstated in Raj Kumar Santoshi's China Gate. Venkatesh quotes film-maker Sant-oshi as saying: "If I open my mouth, her career will be ruined." According to a trade journalist, earlier Mithun Chakraborty had set up the Magnum company with Samir and Hanif Lakdawalla, who were acting as Dawood's frontmen in filmdom. But Chakraborty broke off from the duo.

Those who made it to the star-studded nite of June 12 are putting up a brave face. Television star Sajjid Khan, who compered the now-infamous show, defends the industry against the smear campaign. "This is the best industry in India. It is unfortunate how the whole world paints this trade black." Adds singer Abhijeet, who sang at Dubai: "I can't understand this sudden curiosity. We are keen to have Nadeem in India so that such wild speculation may be put to rest. It was a great show." For Nadeem and the industry, however, the music has just begun. It remains to be seen if investigations will merely scratch the surface or probe deeper.

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