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Subrata Roy: The dapper tycoon who enamoured film folk

ByMeena Iyer
Nov 16, 2023 07:56 AM IST

The film folk, gravitating naturally to wealth and power, were briefly so enamoured of the dapper tycoon, known for his statement gifts, that when in Lucknow they would all offer the sahara pranaam by placing their hand on their hearts as opposed to the usual namaste

Mumbai: The early 2000s was a time in India when the confluence of politics, industry and glamour was at its peak, and Subrata Roy, Chairman of the Sahara Group, who died in Mumbai on Tuesday, was at the heart of this trifecta along with the 3 As: Anil Ambani, Samajwadi party leader Amar Singh and Amitabh Bachchan.

Subrata Roy: The dapper tycoon who enamoured film folk
Subrata Roy: The dapper tycoon who enamoured film folk

Roy was the perfect link between the 3 As—he had an airline to fly his friends around, and he had a cheerful and generous disposition.

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The film folk, gravitating naturally to wealth and power, were briefly so enamoured of the dapper tycoon, known for his statement gifts, that when in Lucknow they would all offer the sahara pranaam by placing their hand on their hearts as opposed to the usual namaste.

Through these heady years film stars whose ‘dates’ were often hard to come by for directors and producers, would keep a suitcase packed and be on standby mode,

ready to board a private jet whenever the ‘Saharasri’ beckoned. In 2004, at the double celebration of his sons Sushanto and Seemanto’s weddings at Lucknow’s Sahara city, stars like Amitabh Bachchan, Shah Rukh Khan, Juhi Chawla, Aishwarya Rai, Manisha Koirala, Pooja Bhatt rubbed shoulders with Anil Ambani and Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Lalu Prasad Yadav.

On another occasion, he had the stars and a bunch of journalists flown over to Lucknow for one of his soirees. On the flight, he had playback singers Sonu Nigam and Sapna Mukherjee perform for the passengers while Govinda danced in the aisle.

If Subrata Roy was on everyone’s speed dial in Bollywood in those days, it was for one reason: money. Whether it was production, distribution, or just plain financing, anyone in trouble leaned on Sahara. For instance, when producer Boney Kapoor ran himself into a financial spot, he pledged all his films’ negatives to Sahara in return for a bail out that would allow him finish his project that was underway. Roy’s conduit to Bollywood was Amar Singh whose friendship with the Bachchans—which eventually soured-- led to many doors opening for him in the film industry.

Roy also had his own pandits and astrologers at the disposal of the stars whenever they sought divine intervention. Several B-towners flaunted huge sapphires, opals and emeralds in gaudy rings worn sometimes on the fingers of both hands on the advice of Saharasri’s pandits. Over time, the pandits became privy to the secrets and sorrows of some of India’s biggest demigods.

Actress Manisha Koirala who was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2012, recalls that when he learnt of her diagnosis, Subrata Roy reached her house and promised all possible help. “When it was suggested that I go the Sloan Kettering in New York for my cancer surgery, Saharasri organised for me and my entire family to stay at one

of his hotels in New York.” Roy then owned the iconic Plaza hotel in NYC. “I came back cured but I can never forget that it was Saharasri who was with me and my family all through my journey to fight cancer,” says Koirala.

She is one of the few stars who is ready to speak fulsomely about the tycoon. As Subrata Roy’s legal troubles mounted and his empire crumbled, the stars too distanced themselves. Those who were once closest to him failed to offer public condolences on his death.

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