In 2016, popular Bollywood actor Sanjay Dutt was released from prison after having completed a five-year sentence for the possession of illicit weapons linked to the horrific 1993 Mumbai terror attacks. A lot was said then about Bollywood’s alleged connections with the mafia and a lot is being said now, following the untimely demise of prolific actor Sushant Singh Rajput. While the CBI is still investigating the issue at hand, netizens have been abuzz about how Bollywood has been hand-in-hand with the Indian mafia. None of this has been proven but nobody cares about facts on social media, right?
However, there is also no smoke without fire. Way back when, before most of us were even thought of, one of Mumbai’s most infamous dons, Haji Mastan, produced a host of films starring his mistress in a bid to promote her career.
According to a report in Firstpost authored by Abhijit Majumdar, banks were barred from financing movies till the year 2000. According to Majumdar, this “big chasm in financing was filled by the underworld”.
Ronak D Desai, in an article for Forbes, writes about filmmakers and celebrities who were forced to accept help from the mafia even if they were against it. In fact, according to Desai, director Mahesh Bhatt who has found himself in the midst of the Sushant Singh Rajput – Rhea Chakraborty scandal once observed that “there’s hardly anybody in the film industry who has…not been contacted by the mafia.”
“The industry also welcomed funds from gangsters and politicians, looking for ways to launder their ill-gotten gains, known in India as ‘black money’,” a WikiLeaks cable issued by the State Department in 2011 noted. “After the government added the film industry to the list of legitimate industries, the corporatization of Bollywood – and the wider entertainment industry – began.”
But this alleged mafia connection is not as glamorous or cozy as it looks.
As Desai notes, filmmaker Rakesh Roshan narrowly escaped an assassination attempt in 2011 after he refused to sell the overseas rights of his latest film, Kaho Naa Pyaar Hai, to one of India’s leading criminal organizations.
Supposedly, director Karan Johar who has directed some of the most memorable films in Hindi cinema like Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, Kabhi Khushi Khabhie Gham and Kal Ho Naa Ho also had to turn to the police for protection after receiving death threats from the Indian mafia.
Nazim Rizvi, the producer of Chori Chori Chupke Chupke, and his assistant were sentenced to six years in prison in 2001 for working for the murky underworld and helping the mafia extort money from members of the film industry.
In fact, in an interview with Times of India, Bollywood’s King of Hearts, Shah Rukh Khan had once stated that he was pressured to act in a movie and he had also admitted to receiving death threats after the release of his film, Happy New Year.
Then, of course, there is Monica Bedi. The celebrity who appeared on a season Bigg Boss was rumoured to been married to Abu Salem, an underworld don. “I began getting friendly with him over the phone. At that time, he gave me a different name. I didn’t know he was Abu Salem. Actually, even if he had told me he was Abu Salem, I would’ve had no clue. I had only heard about Dawood Ibrahim and Chhota Shakeel. I’d never heard of Abu Salem,” she has said, according to MensXP.
And then there’s that infamous photo of Anil Kapoor standing next to Dawood Ibrahim. We all know that one. While the picture has again started doing the rounds on the internet, Kapoor has denied any involvement with Ibrahim. So viral was the photo recently that actress Sonam Kapoor even responded to a netizen’s allegation. “He went to a cricket match with Raj Kapoor and Krishna Kapoor. And was in a box to see it. I think you need to stop pointing fingers and there are three that point back at you. I hope lord Ram can forgive you for being evil and spreading violence,” she said.
There is no proof of the majority of Bollywood celebrities having anything to do with the mafia but the taint is hard to remove.