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S Hussain Zaidi: Mafia had a stranglehold over film financing, but that’s changing

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From the 1980s to the late 1990s, the Mumbai mafia had a stranglehold over the financing of films, but all that is changing with the entry of corporate production houses that are professionally run, says S Hussain Zaidi, one of India’s foremost crime writers who has closely recorded the violent strong-arm tactics of the underworld in a series of best-selling novels. Excerpts from his interview…

Underworld links are not unique to the cinema business…

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In any kind of organisation or industry, where big money is involved, the underworld has made its entry. So first, it would be incorrect to single out the entertainment industry as the underworld has been associated with politics, construction and real estate, the stock market, and sports as well.

The film business is one that requires huge capital. So, in the years when film financing was not structured and the economy was closed, the underworld spotted a window to pump in their black money.

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Haji Mastan produced a few films on social issues. Anis Ibrahim, Chhota Shakeel and Abu Salem, all of them tried their hand in film financing. It was their way of turning legit — rubbing shoulders with film stars gave them social acceptance. A film shoot in Dubai meant enjoying the hospitality of Dawood Ibrahim.

The impact of corporatisation of the film business…

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In the 1980s to the late 1990s, the Mumbai mafia had a stranglehold over film financing. Whether actors liked it or not, they had to adjust to this reality. Plus, the threat of violence was always there. It was impossible to say ‘no’ to the underworld in the past. Those who did faced terrible consequences.

All of that changed when business corporations started financing films and a new structure evolved. Filmmakers now have other avenues to seek their funding, which they were happy to do. With the advent of OTT platforms owned by international corporate houses, the business has become even more professional. Definitely, the change has been good to the point that the Sword of Damocles no longer hangs on the heads of producers.

How the underworld still maintains its links with the film industry…

Dubai and Malaysia are the prominent offshore power centers. Dawood Ibrahim has been known to pump his money into films through proxy channels. Several clean and unknown companies were picked up and used as fronts for Dawood’s forays into filmmaking.

However, the cops were listening and their surveillance paid off. Producers known to Dawood have been arrested and jailed as well. Chhota Rajan has also financed a few films through his front men. His levels of operations and clout, however, were quite limited in the industry.

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

When these were commonplace, threats came at different levels. A producer could be threatened to cast a particular actress or actor, or he could be forced to part with the rights of the movie in different countries to people who were close to the dons.

These were high-level threats. At a lower level, the producer could be targeted by local goons (pretending to call on behalf of the ‘bhai’) to share a percentage of the profits. Many small-time gangsters took advantage of prevailing conditions and made quick money. Matters had reached such a level that producers even dreaded buying a new car to stay off the radar of the underworld.

Abu Salem, in particular, had terrorised the industry. He had some kind of perverted fascination for film stars. He has the maximum number of cases registered against him for killings, threats, extortion, et al.

The extent of the consumption of drugs in the entertainment industry…

Look at the amount of drugs confiscated at the Mundra port in recent times. Not all of that was going to be consumed by the entertainment industry, right? How do you explain the drug menace in states such as Punjab?

So, these are deep-rooted issues that cannot be pinned down on the entertainment industry. Of course, there is the issue of drug consumption, but it is only as widespread as it is in the larger society.

The police have to watch out for hidden friends of the underworld in the industry. Of course, the majority of them are victims, but some of them happily drop names and enjoy the clout of having connections with the ‘bhais’. The police have to weed out such hidden oligarchs of the mafia masquerading as members of the film fraternity.

–By Vishnu Makhijani

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