S. Hussain Zaidi: The mafia had a stranglehold on film financing, but that's changing (IANS Interview)

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NEW DELHI, June 11 (IANS) From the 1980s to the late 1990s, the Mumbai mafia had a stranglehold on film financing, but all that is changing with the entry of professionally run production companies, says S. Hussain Zaidi, one of India’s leading crime writers, who has chronicled the violent underworld tactics in a number of best-selling novels. Excerpts from his interview with IANS

Connections to the underworld aren’t just found in the cinema store…

In any type of organization or industry where big money is involved, the underworld has taken hold. First, it would be wrong to single out the entertainment industry, as the underworld has also been associated with politics, construction and real estate, the stock market and sports.

The film business is one that requires enormous capital. In the years when film financing was unstructured and the economy shut down, the underworld found a window to pump their black money in.

Haji Mastan produced some social issue films. Anis Ibrahim, Chhota Shakeel and Abu Salem all dabbled in film financing. It was their way of gaining legitimacy — patting movie stars on the back gave them social acceptance. Shooting a film in Dubai meant enjoying the hospitality of Dawood Ibrahim.

The impact of socializing the film business…

In the 1980s to the late 1990s, the Mumbai mafia had a stranglehold on film financing. Whether the actors liked it or not, they had to adapt to this reality. Also, the threat of violence was always there. It used to be impossible to say no to the underworld. Those who did faced dire consequences.

All that changed when business corporations started funding films and a new structure evolved. Filmmakers now have other avenues to seek funding, which they were happy to do. With the emergence of OTT platforms owned by international corporations, the business has become even more professional. In any case, the change was so good that the sword of Damocles is no longer hanging on the heads of the producers.

How the underworld still maintains its ties to the film industry…

Dubai and Malaysia are the preeminent offshore energy centers. Dawood Ibrahim is known for pumping his money into movies through proxy channels. Several clean and unknown companies were picked up and used as fronts for Dawood’s forays into filmmaking.

However, the cops listened, and their surveillance paid off. Producers known to Dawood were also arrested and imprisoned. Chhota Rajan has also financed some films through his front men. However, its uses and influence have been fairly limited in the industry.

The nature of the threats to Bollywood producers and the rest of the industry from underworld dons…

As these became commonplace, threats came at different levels. A producer could be threatened to cast a certain actress or actor, or be forced to distribute the film’s rights in different countries to people close to the Dons.

These were high-level threats. At a lower level, the producer could be targeted by local idiots (who pretend to be calling on behalf of the “Bhai”) to share a percentage of the profits. Many petty gangsters took advantage of the prevailing conditions and made quick money. Matters had reached such a level that manufacturers even balked at buying a new car to stay off the radar of the underworld.

Above all, Abu Salem had terrorized the industry. He had a perverse fascination with movie stars. He has the maximum number of cases registered against him for killings, threats, extortion, etc.

The extent of drug use in the entertainment industry…

Look at the amount of drugs seized in Mundra port lately. Not all of that would be consumed by the entertainment industry, would it? How do you explain the drug threat in states like Punjab?

So these are ingrained issues that cannot be pinned down to the entertainment industry. Of course, there is the issue of drug use, but it is only as pervasive as it is in society at large.

The police have to watch out for hidden friends of the underworld in the industry. Of course, most of them are victims, but some like to drop names and enjoy the influence of having connections with the “Bhais”. The police must sort out such hidden mafia oligarchs posing as members of the film brotherhood.

(Vishnu Makhijani can be reached at [email protected])


Updated June 11, 2022

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