Glitter and Grime

By LK Sharma

The Bombay film industry which churns out more than 100 films every year is gripped by a multiple crisis which has nothing to do with the recessions, shortage of raw film stock, competition for TV or the government’s art policy. The death of a teenage actress in mysterious circumstances has been forgotten as many wonder whether Bollywood, famous for its glitter and grime, would go on.

Things were going fine for an industry with a turnover of several billion dollars until the Bombay police discovered a nexus between the film industry and the underworld, which has been providing a large chunk of film finance for at least a decade. In this high-risk business, most producers and dummy producers are part of what in Italy is called the subterranean economy, which is as foreign to the tax inspector as a coal mine is to light.

The film-world’s links with the underworld were discovered as a police investigation into a bomb blast in Bombay turned its attention to the activities of a Dubai-based Indian who happened to be Muslim. His close connection with Bombay film personalities and his deep involvement in financing films have been known for years, but in a permissive climate, the operators of the black-market economy (unaccounted and untaxed) appeared to be more powerful than the tax authorities and largely beyond the reach of law.

In the film industry, this system was built up over the years to the detriment of serious, honest producers and directors who were starved of funds, as there has been little flow of legitimate money through banking or other lending agencies. The age of the blockbuster and megastars made it impossible to launch any film without unaccounted funds from dubious sources involved in smuggling and narcotics. Criminals used film finance to launder their wealth and thus could afford to offer astronomical sums to the stars as fees and for overseas video rights. Their money went into distribution, too, and thus the underworld acquired virtual control of the industry.

It is understood links with terrorists that has disturbed this cosy relationship. Dubious sources of finance have dried up temporarily and some film personalities have come under suspicion because of their social relationships with the notorious Dons. Several films have stalled at the production stage and many have not been released. The Indian authorities are unable to book the most wanted person, who is operating from a villa in Dubai, but those operating in Bombay are under pressure.

The situation took an ugly turn when a matinee idol, Sanjay Dutt, son of a famous actor and member of parliament, Mr. Sunil Dutt, was arrested for illegal possession of an AK-56 rifle. He was picked up under the Terrorists Prevention Act. Not many believe that he was actively involved in any terrorism, but the possessions of a weapon which he got from the accomplices of the Dubai-based Don is an offence against which he must defend himself. He said he acquired the weapon because he was feeling threatened.

His father is Hindu and his mother was the famous Muslim actress, Nargis. The Indian film industry is an institution which embodies the living reality of a multicultural India. It contributes towards the creation of a cosmopolitan Indian identity, cutting across regional, religious and linguistic differences without leaning on a Western role model.

However, a sub-plot has developed, with the script being rewritten in the wake of communal riots in India. A semi-fascist Hindi regional organisation in Bombay which was involved in the demolition of the Ayodhys Mosque has resorted to a campaign of vilification against some noted film personalities with liberal secular credentials. Some of them happen to be Muslims who have enjoyed public esteem for years.

The Indian film industry is an institution which embodies the living reality of a multicultural India. It contributed towards the creation of a cosmopolitan Indian identity cutting across regional, religious and linguistic differences, without leaning on a Western role model.

Now attempts are being made to spread communal poison in the film industry. Even before the arrest of Sanjay Dutt provided further ammunition to this fascist organisation, it had unleashed a campaign against an outstanding actress, Shabana Azami, who had been helping the down-and-out in the shanty towns of Bombay. Naturally, she went all out to help the victims of communal riots, which did not make her popular in the eyes of Hindu extremists. Sanjay Dutt’s father has made many political enemies because he has campaigned vigorously for communal harmony and against communal prejudices.

Another actor, even though a Hindu, fell foul of the extremist forces because he happened to attend a diplomatic reception at the Pakistani consulate in Bombay. Even India’s most respected film personality, Dilip Kumar, is having to defend himself against a campaign of vilification.

In the film business, such campaigns can be given a more sinister dimension when the activists of an organisation start mobilising the people for a boycott of the films of a particular star. And this is what is going on in Bombay at present without any particular resistance against such selective censorship. The communal motives of the organisation of boycott are apparent. Major films of Sanjay Dutt have been held up as party workers go round the city putting garlands of shoes round his neck on the film posters. If this technique is perfected, yet another kind of Mafia will come to rule the Bombay film world.