When actor Sanjay Dutt was sentenced to five years in prison for the illegal possession of weapons supplied to the criminals behind the 1993 Mumbai bombings, his predicament shed light on the tight links between India’s booming film industry and Mumbai’s notorious underworld.
In 2011, a leaked US diplomatic cable indicated that Bollywood welcomed funding from gangsters and politicians. According to Jehil Thakkar, Head of Media and Entertainment for KPMG, this association stemmed from the financing needs of the industry; until 2000, the film industry was ineligible for bank credit, private equity, and other means of legitimate commercial financing. As a consequence, 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 60-100%. 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 2011 cable issued by the US Consulate in Mumbai, released by WikiLeaks.
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 of the underworld.
After the 1993 Mumbai bombings, Dawood Ibrahim became India’s most wanted man. According to US officials, Ibrahim maintains close links with al-Qaeda and because of this connection is regarded as a global terrorist. Dawood is also a huge Bollywood buff, and has allegedly financed a number of Bollywood films. The organized crime leader now lives in Dubai and famously invites Bollywood actors to his parties in Dubai and Sharjah. Whether film stars attend because they are pressured to or as a matter of choice remains left to speculation.
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, a 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 a Pakistan based gangster, Chhota Shakeel.
In a piece he wrote for Time magazine in 2002, Richard Corliss reported 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. Abu Salem’s gang is infamous for threatening actor Rakesh Roshan, who was eventually shot and had to be hospitalized to have a bullet removed from his arm.
Corliss also reported that Chhota Shakeel was connected to several actors, directors and producers connected to the Indian film industry. Indian police had 71 tapes of recorded phone conversations from Chhota Shakeel which included incriminating conversations between Shakeel and Sanjay Dutt. Indian film 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 2010, actor Rakesh Roshan found himself a target of the underworld again when he and producer Sajid Nadiadwala were threatened and extorted by gangster Ejaz Lakdawla. Actors Govinda, Amrish Puri and Hrithik Roshan, as well as director Karan Johar, have reportedly received police protection after receive death threats from the underworld.
Last month Boney Kapoor, husband of actress Sridevi, received an anonymous death threat from someone linked to don Ravi Pujari’s gang. The caller made no specific requests but did warn the producer that he would be shot as revenge for two member of Ravi Pujari’s gang being arrested, who earlier this year broke into Boney Kapoor and Sridevi’s home and stole jewellery and cash.