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Bollywood fails to cut mafia links

India's prolific Hindi film industry has not been able to break out of the clutches of the underworld.
By Sumeet Chatterjee, Indo-Asian News Service | PTI, Mumbai
PUBLISHED ON JUL 15, 2005 05:58 PM IST

Despite scripting a success story in the overseas markets and earning billions of dollars in revenue, India's prolific Hindi film industry has not been able to break out of the clutches of the underworld.

Experts say the disclosure of Salman Khan's alleged phone conversations with actress Aishwarya Rai in which the macho film star admitted to his links with the underworld has again brought into focus the mafia's control over the industry.

During the taped conversions in August 2001, Salman reportedly threatened Aishwarya with dire consequences if she didn't perform for the show of

underworld don Abu Salem, an accused in the Mumbai serial bombing case.

Although contents of the explosive taped conversations have been made public after four years, experts say there is nothing stale about the underworld's nexus with Bollywood - as the Hindi film industry is popularly known.

"The latest revelations really come as a setback for the industry that has been taking rapid strides in the last couple of years to establish its brand

name in the global market," said noted film industry analyst Taran Adarsh.

"Although the influence of the underworld may also be there in other industrial sectors, the image of the entire Bollywood industry gets adversely affected by these revelations because of glamour and its reach," Adarsh told IANS.

"It's really unfortunate that the whole film industry is put under the scanner when cases like these involving one or two individuals come out in the open."

Although Salman's lawyer Dipesh Mehta has refuted claims of his client's links with the underworld saying the tape had been fabricated, Bollywood's nexus with the mostly foreign-based mafia is as old as the industry itself.

In July 2002, tapes of "friendly" phone conversation between Sanjay Dutt and Chhota Shakeel - one of India's most-wanted men - was released.

Dutt is facing trial for being in the possession of weapons allegedly used in the series of bombings in Mumbai in 1993 that had killed over 300 people.

Film financer Bharat Shah was arrested in 2001 for allegedly colluding with the underworld for the film "Chori Chori Chupke Chupke" that had Salman in the lead role. Shah has since been released in the absence of enough evidence.

The underworld dons latched on to Bollywood a couple of decades ago by lending huge amounts of money to cash-strapped filmmakers. As they gradually took control of the industry, demands for international rights to films started pouring in.

Extortion calls to successful film stars and directors and death threats to those who don't fall in line are rather norms than exceptions in the industry.

Industry sources say threat calls to film personalities and even television actors have increased in the recent months after a long lull.

Although the government granted industry status to Bollywood in 1998 to make it easy for the filmmakers to borrow funds from banks, there hasn't been a significant change in the financing of films.

"The interest rates charged on the film production loans are much higher than the house loans or other borrowings," said Pahlaj Nihalani, president of the Association of Motion Pictures.

"Most of the banks are not showing any interest in financing films. They think it is a very risky venture. Only those filmmakers who have a very good track record are entertained by the banks," he added.

According to an industry research, filmmakers collectively borrowed $60 million in 2004 from banks and financial institutions as against a meager $11 million in 2001.

Nihalani said use of only "white money" for the film production business would help Bollywood brush aside its unsavoury nexus with the underworld and create a legitimate bright future in the domestic as well as overseas market.

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