May 24, 2020
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The Mafia Calls The Shots

Cassette baron Gulshan Kumar's killing shocks Bollywood as a cash-strapped underworld turns to the industry for a return on investments

The Mafia Calls The Shots

TEN days before Gulshan Kumar was shot dead, he received a phonecall. Abu Salem, Dawood Ibrahim's man in Dubai, spat out that if he had enough cash to feed people in Vaishno Devi everyday, better share the spoils. The price quoted was "ten khokhas", mafia speak for Rs 10 crore. For a self-made man—who ran a wayside fruit-juice stall in old Delhi's Daryaganj before building up his Rs 500-crore music company—the threat seemed hollow. For once, the shrewd businessman didn't bother to negotiate. Even the attempt on producer Rajiv Rai's life on July 31 and the previous month's threats to another film land senior, Subhash Ghai, didn't shake him. In fact, a day before his incredible success story met its gruesome end, while referring to Rajiv Rai, Gulshan Kumar disclosed to a close associate that he too was on the underworld hit list. "

Par main kissi se nahin darta (I fear no one)," he shrugged.

Less than 24 hours later, on August 13, Gulshan Kumar was a dead man. Gunned down at point-blank range outside a temple he had built in suburban Versova. As he ran for cover, the 'cassette king' slumped in an open toilet of a nearby chawl. The bullet-riddled body lay like a warning to the rest of the industry from Dawood Ibrahim's dreaded 'D' Company. The message was clear: those unwilling to meet the underworld's demands would meet the same fate.

Tinsel town reacted to the killing with horror and helplessness. For well over a decade, the film industry had had a symbiotic relationship with the underworld. The dons, flush with black money made through narcotics and gold smuggling, were easy sources of finance. The film industry, in turn, lent glamour and pomp to scores of underworld parties in Dubai and graced functions in Mumbai organised by the dons and their henchmen. Sometimes, the storyline is dictated by the 'Bhais' who also like to promote their favourite heroes and heroines.

But in the last two years, the dons haven't been magnanimous enough in writing off losses on failed films. For one, money from real estate investments is drying up because of the market slump. Then, of their traditional sources of income—narcotics, gold smuggling, illicit liquor trade and prostitution—only the first remains lucrative. Naturally, the underworld has turned to the film industry with renewed interest. The dons are ready to invest money since films have once again started to do well at the box office. But like the builder lobby they once patronised and extorted money from, successful movie-makers and actors have now become targets of the ganglords who are demanding a cut of the success.

The panic in the industry after Gulshan Kumar's killing is understandable—the big-time strike only means the dons are upping their ante. The cash-rich segments of the industry feel they have now become vulnerable to extortion from even local dadas. "After what they did to Gulshan Kumar, if anyone calls and demands money we'll have no option but to pay up," a senior character actor told

Outlook . Police officials also believe the floodgates have been opened for small-time dadas who can cash in by claiming they are attached to the gangs of Dawood Ibrahim, Chotta Rajan or Arun Gawli.

The alarmed film industry is demanding that it be given police protection. It was a very agitated delegation of producers who met deputy chief minister Gopinath Munde on August 14. They said they had "lost faith in the state machinery". Producer G.P. Sippy told Munde that the "entire industry is being held to ransom".

UNDER pressure from the industry, the city police has now provided special security cover to eight prominent film personalities (they won't divulge the names)—according to joint commissioner of police (crime) R.S. Sharma, this itself will involve about 100 cops in the job. Besides, 40 other industry people are to be provided general security cover. The police have been flooded with requests from industry-wallahs for protection, but a lot more personnel will be needed to provide security outside film studios and colonies where film personalities live. Munde, who promised all help to the industry, will now have to tap the State Reserve Police to mobilise resources.

The police has drawn up a list of stars and producers it feels are under threat, including the likes of Amitabh Bachchan, Subhash Ghai, Lata Mangeshkar and Gulshan Rai. But, according to police sources, there is no rationale behind the hitlist and it's more a feelgood exercise to show the police intelligence is wide awake. Even those arrested for the Gulshan Kumar killing may not be the real assailants since one theory is that the gang may have been from Uttar Pradesh and not local hitmen.

The paranoia within the industry is such that stars as well as producers are wary of speaking to the media about the underworld threat. There is a feeling that getting quoted in the press may attract unnecessary attention and this could lead to trouble. Points out Anupam Kher: "The time has come when we all have to be together. Each man cannot stand up for himself. We have to do something collectively and we have to involve the police and the government for the well-being of the industry. You can't possibly do creative work when there is this level of fear."

The industry is also upset that the Shiv Sena government has failed to take prompt action despite the very real threat perception. This when Sena chief Bal Thackeray is himself close to the industry. Thackeray's daughter-in-law Smita is also a film producer and the Sena has formed junior artiste associations in the industry. With all this, the state government's sloppy response to the demands for security cover after the attack on Subhash Ghai hasn't quite gone down well with the industry. Moreover, Munde's statement that the industry is run on black money has angered producers. It was rather late in the day that the Sena mouthpiece

Saamna wrote an editorial pulling up the Mumbai police for failing to gather information on the plot to kill Gulshan Kumar.

Fearing that police protection alone may not be enough, producers, directors and stars have begun approaching private security agencies. Former IGP A.A. Khan, who headed the anti-terrorist squad of the Mumbai police which clamped down on the underworld, now runs Vigilante Services and has been approached by many in the industry. Says he: "In the last eight days, 10 people have approached me. A director, a music director and some producers and actors—all in the top bracket...anyone who's a top earner is a target for the underworld." It would be grossly inaccurate and sensationalist to say that the entire film industry is tied up with the underworld, but there are enough pointers that a sizeable section is linked in one way or the other to the mafia. Consider this:

  •  Mukesh Duggal, who was gunned down earlier this year

    , was a film producer with clear links with Dawood Ibrahim. Within the industry, it's a widely acknowledged fact that Duggal's films were financed by the underworld. Among the films he produced were Fateh starring Sunjay Dutt; Dil Ka Kya Kasoor, with Divya Bharti; Sunil Shetty-starrer Gopi Kishen; and Milan, starring Jackie Shroff and Manisha Koirala.

  •  The Bombay police has files on producer Javed Riaz Siddiqui, who was shot dead a few years ago by the 'D' Company.

    His crime was that he wanted to dump Pakistani actress Zeba Bakhtiar from

    Tu Vish Mai Amrit despite Dawood having recommended her. After the signing amount of Rs 1 lakh was paid, Siddiqui wanted to replace his heroine since Zeba's star value had come down by the time production got under way. This angered Dawood. Since Siddiqui, a small-time producer, dared to resist the don, he was bumped off.

  •  Parties organised by Dawood in Dubai were graced by some big film people. Govinda, Jackie Shroff, Johnny Lever, Anu Malik, Mehmood, Farah, Sonam, Mandakini, among others, have been to Dubai. The parties in the Gulf had stopped after the 'D' Company's involvement in the Mumbai bomb blasts of 1993 was exposed. However, according to police sources, the trips to Dubai have resumed again in the last one year. Since Dawood is in hiding in Karachi, it's his brother Anees and henchman Abu Salem who are now entertained by a section of the stars.

  • The annual tennis ball cricket tournament held at Tilak Nagar in the western suburb of Chembur and funded by the Malaysia-based Chotta Rajan, who broke away from Dawood to form a rival outfit, is graced by filmstars. According to a senior police officer, the don's henchmen would call a star and force him to attend the function. The cricket tournament incidentally has a prize money of Rs 11 lakh and the man of the tournament is given a Maruti 800.

  •   According to the police, after the news filtered down that a certain dancing hero number one had attended a 'D' Company party, he was summoned by Arun Gawli's men to Dagdi chawl, the gangster's 'fortress' in Byculla, central Bombay. Once there, a transistor was switched on and the star was asked to dance just the way he had danced in Dubai.

    What draws a section of the industry to the underworld? In the main, finance. The money inputs into the Mumbai film industry, even by conservative estimates, is over Rs 1,000 crore annually. About 100 Hindi films are produced each year. Since film making is not technically recognised as a 'bonafide' industry, there are very few banks which give loans. As a result, producers have to generate funds from financiers. Since at least 40 per cent of most film transactions are in black, for some producers, the underworld is the only source of money. And since the success formula today is to sign on top stars and shoot song sequences abroad, considerable funds are required. Only the underworld has access to the Rs 6-8 crore that is required for a big budget film.

    BUT the involvement of the dons and their henchmen is not restricted to finance alone. Once an underworld outfit decides to bankroll a film, it also ensures that top stars are signed on. Though no specific names are mentioned, the film industry grapevine has it that some top actors have been pressured by a call from 'D' Company henchmen in Dubai or Chotta Rajan's gang members to sign on films although the actor or actress in question may not have any dates to spare for the next six months. Once signed on, the Bhais also ensure that star time is made available.

    When the underworld takes on the task of casting, it could also mean the producer and director will have to suffer actors or actresses who don't command a very high market. The don or his henchmen will have their favourite star and he or she is often signed on at a rate far higher than their real worth.

    With an increasing number of films being shot in foreign locales, the gangsters also come in handy in organising finances abroad. Funneling money via the hawala channel is no difficult task for the underworld. Post-production problems—like the simultaneous release of two big budget films, which could cut into the business of a producer—is sometimes sorted out by the Bhais. According to the police, they know of cases when a film's release is delayed by a fortnight or a month to ensure that an underworld-sponsored production makes the best of a holiday or festive season when cine goers throng theatres.

    Another slice of the industry's pie that the gangsters eye are the overseas rights of films. Thus, according to police sources, Rajiv Rai was threatened because Abu Salem wanted the overseas rights of

    Gupt while Subhash Ghai was approached for Pardes . But the foreign distribution rights for both films had already been sold. When Salem was told this, he demanded that projected profits from the overseas rights be paid to him. Though Ghai and Rai have denied it, the buzz is that some settlement may have been worked out abroad.

    According to industry sources, the alarming aspect of the underworld's interest in Bollywood is that even respected directors with no underworld links have been targeted. The gangsters no longer sponge off only those they have promoted. Any successful venture is one that can be made capital out of. According to one source, if a producer has a hit, there's a problem. And the demands made by the gangs could be of a scale that an actor or a producer may find difficult to comply with.

    But very few cases are reported to the police. One senior police officer has had meetings with top stars and producers who have been put in a spot by the gangsters. Other than seeking advice from the police very little is done. With the killing of Gulshan Kumar, the pressure is very much on the industry and the threat perception is akin to what many builders experienced when the gangsters went on an extortion spree two years ago.

    . Today, it's all happening behind the big screen.

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