Before Daddy: Here’s why Bollywood and underworld refuse to break-up

Hindustan Times | ByManeesh Vajpayee, New Delhi
Sep 06, 2017 05:21 PM IST

Satya, Vaastav, Once Upon a Time in Mumbaai… and now Daddy. As discussion shifts to whether underworld holds relevance anymore, one thing is for sure – the cinema on the subject sure does.

Satya, Company, Vaastav, Once Upon a Time in Mumbaai, Agneepath… and now Daddy. It is often asked why Bollywood is obsessed with underworld. The role of a gangster is a de riguer before you earn your stripes and establish yourself in the industry. However, dig a little and the relationship – at its roots -- is symbiotic. Just as the industry came to be obsessed with crime syndicates, the Mumbai underworld was obsessed with the glitz, glamour and fame that only movies could provide them.

Arjun Rampal plays Arun Gawli in Daddy.
Arjun Rampal plays Arun Gawli in Daddy.

With 80s and 90s came underworld’s increased interest in the industry. What started as summoning a star to meet friends or family, or probably be a part of a wedding soon turned into a business. Underworld started investing money in films – picking distribution rights of films and even financing them. Where money power didn’t work, coercion came handy. A phone call from the Bhai could make a recalcitrant top star say yes to films and threats could get film rights.

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The photos of top underworld bosses with superstars of the era are no secret. It is said that Chota Shakeel’s man Rizvi went to film set several times with a briefcase full of cash, asking to meet the director and demanding that he should make a film for them. In fact, one of the top actors today -- who was just starting out then – hid in his vanity van for hours to escape the aide of an underworld boss who was waiting for him on film sets. The lack of transparency in the industry’s financial matters made it a perfect way to launder money.

Whether it was Dawood Ibrahim or Abu Salem, no one was immune to the charms of the industry. Making it their business was the logical next step. In fact, author S Hussain Zaidi has famously said that don Abu Salem wanted only ‘fame, fame, fame’. And what could be a better way of grasping it than the glamour industry? Salem, who was apparently obsessed with his good looks, was fascinated with actor Sanjay Dutt and wanted to meet him. He reportedly met the actor when he delivered two AK-47 rifles to the actor before 1993 bomb blasts. While Salem has denied this, it is said that Salem was so overwhelmed after meeting the actor that he could not stop talking about it for days.

Rishi Kapoor in a still from D-Day.
Rishi Kapoor in a still from D-Day.

Dawood Ibrahim, meanwhile, was a fan of Rishi Kapoor. The actor wrote in his autobiography how he was invited by the gangtser to his Dubai villa to have tea. Spotted by one of Dawood’s men at the airport, Rishi was handed a phone and told ‘Bhai baat karenge’ in the 80s. He was then invited and Dawood served the actor and his friends tea and biscuits. This was much before the 1993 bomb blasts and Dawood becoming India’s most wanted.

While the grasp of underworld gradually lessened with the advent of studio system, the industry’s obsession with these larger-than-life stories didn’t. The smugglers of gold, diamonds and sundry other items of the 70s morphed into dreaded mob bosses and the industry’s portrayal of them gave them broad strokes of glamour.

The makers got readymade stories replete with ruthless hunger for power, money in the underworld sags. And one particular man, Dawood Ibrahim, figuring in most of them. The fact that most of these ganglords came from slums or the underbelly of various cities added yet another layer of romanticism to the narrative.

Mahesh Manjrekar’s Vaastav was based on Chota Rajan’s life and was a huge success. Ram Gopal Varma understood the pull of these stories and delivered some of his best works such as Satya and Company. Shootout at Lokhandwala, Shootout at Wadala, Once Upon a Time in Mumbai and D Day are just a few of the succesful films that followed in the genre.

Coming up next are Arjun Rampal-sstarrer Daddy where he plays Arun Gawli – yet another Mumbai don who came out of nowhere to rule his own kingdom – and Haseena Parker where Shraddha Kapoor will play Ibrahim’s sister. Even as discussion has shifted to whether underworld holds relevance anymore, one thing is for sure – the cinema on the subject sure does.

(Maneesh Vajpayee is a documentary filmmaker)

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