The meltdown of the Saradha Group and subsequent focus on the state's multiple ponzi scams are hitting Bengal's film industry where it hurts the most - right in the pocket.
The release of Asharey Gappo, a film funded by Angel Cinevision & Media – a deposit-taking company (popularly known as a ponzi fund) – has now been postponed indefinitely, even though the funding company does not have any apparent links with Saradha. The film was scheduled to hit theatres on May 10.
Director Arindam Chakraborty is predictably upset. "There have been some problems regarding the film's release, but I don't want to comment. I just hope the film releases soon," he said.
Tollywood has emerged as a destination of choice for ponzi fund mobilisations, with many films in the recent past being produced with the money generated from schemes similar to the one that Saradha was offering. Trinamool Rajya Sabha MP Kunal Ghosh, who is the second most-discussed face in the Saradha scam after Sudipta Sen, also produced a film called Balukabela.com. Although it has not been officially announced, Tollywood sources say that this film, too, was probably financed with money from ponzi funds.
According to Arijit Dutta, the owner of Priya Cinemas, deposit-taking companies have directly or indirectly financed approximately 30%-35% of the films being made in Tollywood over the past two years.
The most important deposittaking firms operating in Tollywood are Rose Valley Films Ltd, which has produced such National Award-winning films as Gautam Ghose's MonerManush and Kaushik Ganguly's Shabdo, and the Prayag Group, which is currently producing Nitish Roy's JoleJongole. Bengal's brand ambassador, Shah Rukh Khan, was at the launch of Prayag Film City in Chandrakona, West Midnapore, last year.
Over the years, many other deposit-taking companies, such as Alchemist ( Devaki), Remac Filmz ( MachoMastana), Dreamaway Movies & Entertainment Pvt Ltd (Boro EkaLaagey), Roofers Media Pvt (Ritabrata Bhattacharya's BasantaUtsav), Gurukul Art & Media ( Prem Leela), Tower Group (Chinmoy Roy's Tenida); Silicon Group of Companies ( Baajikar); ICore Entertainment ( Mukti) andShine India Infra Entertainment ( Rakhbo Tomay Saathi Kore) have financed films in Tollywood.
Interestingly, KagojerNauka, a yet-to-released film from the Tollywood mill starring Soumitra Chatterjee, even revolves around ponzi funds.
But this trend is nothing new for Bengal's film industry. A technician who has been in Tollywood for three decades says, "ponzi funds are nothing new in the Tollygunge film industry. They come, finance films and leave. Sanchayita financed Ramesh Sippy's Shaan way back in 1980." DK Films, a ponzi fund, was involved with Tapan Sinha's
Bancharamer Bagan and Gope Movies produced such films as Prabhat Ray's Swet
Patharer Thala and Buddhadeb Dasgupta's National Awardwinner Charachar.
"There has been a boom in the film business after the ponzi funds have come in. But some unprofessional ponzi fund companies have come in without prior research and increased the remuneration of actors, directors and technicians," says Ashok Dhanuka of Eskay Movies.
Although Tollywood is rather coy about its ponzi fund connections, Bollywood has been far more open about its connection with the underworld.
Director duo Abbas-Mustan's film Chori Chori Chupke Chupke (2001), starring Salman Khan, Rani Mukerji and Preity Zinta, was allegedly financed by notorious gangster Chhota Shakeel.