There seems no end to celeb woes at the airport. While on Tuesday, actor Mallika Sherawat’s brother, producer Vikram Lamba became the latest to be detained at the international airport in Mumbai for carrying undeclared cash and goods, actor Minissha Lamba’s jewellery and personal belongings, confiscated two weeks ago, are yet to be returned by the customs department. The undercurrent in Bollywood is that stars are being singled out for scrutiny.
“Being a public figure, we become easy targets. We are immediately recognised. Somehow, the authorities presume that being celebrities, we will have a lot of stuff stacked away,” says a popular actor, wishing not to be named. She is not the only one raising questions on the frequency of such incidents — three in a fortnight. Actor Eesha Koppikhar says, “It’s true, we become soft targets. But I have grown used to that, because celebrities also get a lot of benefits, so we have to take it in our stride.”
About a week ago, actor Bipasha Basu, too, was detained for carrying undeclared goods, and let off after paying custom duty.
“A celeb comes into the picture more often because of his face value ... of course, they should know the rules — what to carry and what not — but no one should be harassed,” says film expert Joginder Tuteja.
Customs officials, however, strongly deny that they single out Bollywood celebs. A custom official, who was in the team that detained Bipasha and Minissha, says, on condition of anonymity, “Why would we target just celebs? Our technique remains the same — suspicious movement and unsure body language, and often a tip-off. In the recent cases, the actors’ undeclared goods showed in the scanning machine. If we have caught 600 people, only three out of them happen to be celebs. So, we are obviously have nothing against the actors.”
Stars claim they are hassled, not just by custom officials but other departments too. Actor Koena Mitra was stopped by security at the Bengaluru airport last year and asked uncomfortable questions about her attire. “They said I was leaving a negative impression on the youth,” she says. Delhi-based singer Shibani Kashyap also faced misbehaviour by staff at the Ahmedabad airport recently.