Around the time when Amitabh Bachchan’s ‘Coolie’ was made and dons like Karim Lala, Haji Mastan, Varadarajan Mudaliar ruled the roost in Mumbai, it was a given that much of Bollywood served as a conduit for their black money. These funds, and the many shady producers, helped bring about a boom in the film industry, which was replicated in other regional centres. Even if a movie didn’t make money at the box office, the financiers and producers did, as it helped launder their ill-gotten gains. Over the years, the boom also led to greater professionalism in the industry and eventual corporatisation. This was hastened by the Mumbai riots (1992-93) and the terrorist attack in 2008, requiring further cleansing of the underworld. Its deep nexus with the police was also, perforce, broken. The increased gang wars had already led to the likes of Dawood Ibrahim escaping from India (1986) to Dubai and, later, Pakistan.
Along with the increased viewership for Bollywood movies among the Indian Diaspora in the Middle-East and other parts of the world, the runaway shady financiers also provided the industry an ‘offshore’ presence, which has only grown since then. This has not only impacted production patterns but also the content of the movies. It was only a matter of time before overseas interests became entrenched in the system and, of late, are increasingly coming into conflict with ‘national’ security. The Pakistani patronage of Dawood and others like him, as well as the existence of ‘neutral’ grounds like Dubai, have created an environment where links of the kind brought to the fore by BJP VP Baijayant Panda have developed, to the obvious detriment of the industry.
The names that have been mentioned regarding association with ISI stooges and terrorist backers include Shahrukh Khan and Gauri Khan, who number among Bollywood royalty. The ‘social scene’ in the lands that represent ‘investment’ havens has a considerable section of Bollywood as its leading lights. It is very much a possibility that the ‘rejection’ of certain actors could also be because of internal pressures regarding the content and messaging in movies.
It is obviously about time that such networks are thoroughly investigated, their financial impact on Bollywood examined, and appropriate legislation introduced to ensure all activity is legitimate. Just as the dons were mostly ejected from the Mumbai scene, the larger area that influences Bollywood should be purged of such elements. Even the biggest names should not be spared if their involvement is proved. The film industry is part of India’s soft power; it cannot be allowed to become contaminated and devalued.