During the mid-late 1990s, a series of police investigations revealed the extent to which the underworld was involved in Bollywood, with some officials claiming that close to 60% of films were being financed by the mafia. In January 2001, Sucheta Dalal wrote:
As many as 20 films released recently are suspected to have been financed by the underworld don, Chhota Shakeel, who allegedly forced film stars into signing movies and rescheduling their shooting dates, he told PTI here. Since the arrest of Mr. Nazim Rizvi, producer of the unreleased film Chori Chori Chupke Chupke, allegedly financed by Chhota Shakeel of the notorious Dawood Ibrahim gang, Crime Branch sleuths had got a lead and were now zeroing in on more ‘go-betweens’ in the film industry, he said. ‘A few more arrests within a couple of days are expected.’ (Jan 8, 2001, Indian Express).
This was nearly three years after the Indian government, global consultancy firms like Pricewaterhouse Coopers, and eminent film industry personalities like Yash Chopra declared that Bollywood would be corporatized. The film industry was folded into the Entertainment division of FICCI (Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry), and prominent producers and directors swore to do everything in their power to “corporatize” and “globalize” the industry. What did “corporatization” that mean? By according “industry” status to the business of filmmaking, a number of people and companies hoped for, among other things, significant changes in film financing. To be sure, “clean funds” from banks, media companies like UTV, venture capitalists, and U.S. companies such as Fox and Warner Bros. did begin to define a new circuit of capital in the city. But claims of “corporatization” were always regarded with a healthy dose of skepticism.
In 2005, questions about the mafia’s involvement in Bollywood were raised again following the arrest of Abu Salem, an underworld don who had tried to assassinate film directors Rajiv Rai and Rakesh Roshan. At the time, Yash Chopra, chairman of FICCI’s Entertainment Committee, quickly issued statements asserting that the situation had improved and that there was no cause for concern. “Money is easily available,” declared Chopra.
Now, after a decade of corporatization, film companies going public, and global media corporations making a beeline for Bombay, is the situation any better? I’m not optimistic. Just a few days back, Vijay K. Taneja, who ran a mortgage loan business in Fairfax, Virginia, and was known as a Bollywood promoter and film producer, was “sentenced to seven years in prison Friday for one of the largest bank fraud scams in the state’s history” (full story). Defrauding banks and his customers, Taneja has produced at least two major films – Humko Tumse Pyaar Hai (2007) and Aap Kaa Suroor: The Real Luv Story – featuring stars such as Arjun Rampal, Bobby Deol, Mallika Sherawat, and Himesh Reshammiya. Aap Ka Suroor was made on a budget of $16.5 million, pretty substantial by Bollywood standards.
So much for corporatization. This story certainly skews the triumphalist narrative of the role played by the diaspora in the globalization of Bollywood. But more than anything else, I was struck by the fact that this forges the link between real estate money and the Bombay film industry once again!
p.s. for a terrific account of the relationship between film, real estate, and other industries in Bombay, see Ashish Rajadhyaksha’s essay, “The Curious Case of Bombay’s Hindi Cinema: The Career of Indigenous Exhibition Capital.”