I believe that within the heart of most gangsters or those who live on the other side of the law, is a deep lament. And a deep desire to go legit. Once such a person has got where he wanted to, he discovers that power and money can’t buy him everything. Also, that he is unable to enjoy the fruits of his labour. He sees the impossibility of that and he regrets it. But he knows he can’t retrace his steps. To reverse his journey can only lead to death. From here on, there is only death. There is no return.
Only legitimacy and respectability can offer him a respite. When he stands next to a famous film star and gets photographed with him, it is his way of buying respectability. For the star has gained fame, power, money — the same attributes that he has as well — but with his reputation intact. So the gangster gets to play the nice guy, soften his image.
The underworld is attracted to stars just as most people in our world are. (I must add here that they are fascinated only by the stars and not so much by directors.) Like your average Joe down the road, the gangster would also like to meet the stars, talk to them, get photographed with them. Unlike the average Joe, however, the gangster can actually get to do that, be able to fulfill his fantasy.
Of course, coming out in the open to consort with stars, or attend parties, or events, could be dangerous for the members of the underworld. Dangerous by our standards, that is. Don’t forget the gangster lives with danger all the time. He knows he can die any day — and what danger could be greater than that? Besides, if he didn’t take such risks, he would live like a rat in its warren.
On the other side is Bollywood’s fascination with the underworld. There is a certain charisma to it, and we do fall prey to that. For any creative person, the underworld is fascinating just as dacoits once were in films, because they are different from the norm, because they live on the edge. Also, their lives are the stuff of great stories. It makes for a simple-minded tale — the man who is suppressed and exploited picks up a gun and obtains justice for himself. Posit this cleverly and there can be a moral justification for his behaviour.
But to constantly imply that the film industry consorts with the underworld by choice is both ridiculous and false. Just as a journalist may interview a don purely out of professional interest, so too is the interaction professional for 95 per cent of filmmakers in the industry.
Besides, it is not only us film-makers who are fascinated with the underworld; the audience obviously is too, or films with such themes would not find so many buyers.
In any case, I think the attitude of the ‘overworld’ to the underworld is totally hypocritical, considering our world is so sleaze-ridden. Look at everything from the Kashmir situation to child porn —you can see enough crime in our society, though the people responsible for it are not considered criminals.
In the early ‘80s, when I was assisting Saeed Mirza on the shooting of Mohan Joshi Haazir Ho (I was the writer of the film) we shot in the Do Tanki area of Mumbai. There I met a lot of ex-underworld people and often, they would say to me, “Aap log ki duniya aur hamari duniya mein kya farak hai?” (What difference is there, really, between your world and our world?) It was almost comical for them to see how they are considered criminals and those who perpetrate social crimes in our world are not.
These people came from the urban economically-deprived section of our society, which seems to be out of the agenda of Mr Chidambaram. The State has abdicated its responsibility towards them.
Every child in a Mumbai gully knows what the local politician is all about and sees that power talks. He learns that if you’re powerful and rich, you can get away with practically anything. Power is the one virtue that a young man on the street sees.
Circumstances today make it almost impossible for us to be moral, to be good. While it is so easy and lucrative to be corrupt. With that kind of reference point, it would be a natural reflex for the economically deprived to gravitate towards the underworld.
That is why the underworld or other criminals are protected by one section of society. Take Veerappan, who had the protection of the villagers surrounding his hideout. Because, to them, the impact of Veerappan’s actions and those of the politicians was the same. I’m not equating the politicians with Veerappan; I’m saying the impact of their actions could be very similar.
Also, in India as a country, there is no value for good or people who do good. My father, who retired as Vice Chancellor of Banaras Hindi University, could not educate his children as he might have liked to. And he did not have enough to buy himself a house at the end of his career. While a twitty model who wiggles her hips earns much more than him. I’m not saying the model should earn less; I’m saying that our society doesn’t value those who add value to it.
But public activism is bringing about some change now. There’s hope. And when the overworld cleans up its act, the sheen of the underworld will fade.
(The writer is a well-known filmmaker)