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December 27, 1997


The predator as prey

A still from Satya. Click for bigger pic!
The car comes hurtling off the road to smashes into the steps of the temple. Bleeding and exhausted, that icon of Indian cinema Amitabh Bachchan staggers up the steps and collapses into the arms of his mother. "I'm tired, I'm very tired, mother," the dying man says. The prodigal has returned.

Deewar wasn't the first movie to show predator as prey; and films on these lines weren't all made by goons nursing a sense of injury. Latest in the genre is Ram Gopal Verma's Satya, allegedly based on the life of the current caliph of crime, Dawood Ibrahim.

Verma is reluctant to admit anything beyond the fact that it is based on the underworld. Understandably. For when actress Mahima heard of it, she promptly fled the film, forcing the director to go back to his first choice, Urmila Matondkar.

Ram Gopal Verma. Click for bigger pic!
"I'm not glorifying the underworld," assserts Verma. "I want to portray stark reality, as Shekhar Kapur did in Bandit Queen. I want to show the human side of the underworld, why a man picks up the gun."

That was exactly what we meant. Don't mistake Verma's film for a documentary to explore the psychological innards of sociopathic behaviour; it's a commercial film all right, one concession to seriousness being the absence of songs.

What is more interesting is the obsession of the film world with the underworld, a fixation partly based on the complex relationship between them. The underworld loves Bollywood, funding it and feeding it in times of need. But for some inexplicable reason the Indian film industry while feeding off the fat and deplores the blood.

Gulshan Kumar. Click for bigger pic!
But of recent times, it is getting more cautious. Never known for pointless bravado off-screen, the industry has become more cagey following the murder of Gulshan Kumar. And so when Verma changed the script and based in on Dawood, his cast panicked. That's when Mahima left and his other stars threatened to. He may even have to change the script again.

It may be recalled that Mani Ratnam, who made Roja against the backdrop of terrorism-ridden Kashmir, and Bombay on the Bombay riots, also escaped an attempt on his life. Manisha Koirala, who starred in Bombay also got a few threatening calls.

Haji Mastan Click for bigger pic!
If Bollywood keeps making films on goons, the underworld too makes films themselves. Haji Mastan planned his own foray into films with an aptly named Patalganga though the film never took off.

More successful was Manu Karamchandani, a hotelier who officially produced a film Mangal Dada, starring Sunil Dutt and Reena Roy. He was murdered and his body was found on the railway tracks at Santa Cruz, in north Bombay. A big matka operator from Ghatkopar made a Raj Babbar starrer and a brothel-owner from Gowalia Tank produced Sita, Gita Aur Rita while mob money reportedly funded Game. The producer of Game was arrested during the premiere of the film itself. Other producers of dubious antecedents include a narcotics smuggler from Bandra and Harish Bhanot, allegedly a close associate of Sharad Shetty.

Producer Sudhakar Bokade was once a loader in Air-India. He famously forced film star Govinda to start shooting for the multi-million Izzatdaar at gunpoint. The police claim Bokade has strong mafia links, a charge he denies.

Shashilal Nair. Click for bigger pic!
Shashilal Nair, who made Angaar, itself based on the underworld, reportedly sold his flat and car to repay borrowed underworld money. Nair was finally pulled out by friend and hero of Angaar, Jackie Shroff.

Another film, produced by a builder close to Bhai Thakur and starring Rajesh Khanna and Amrita Singh is yet to see the light of day. The list could go on...

A telephone call from Dubai sorted out Shilpa Shirodkar's problems with director Saawan Kumar Tak. And a threat forced Vinod Khanna to get back to the sets of Garjana. And recently, it was allegedly a call from Chota Rajan that got Raj Kumar Santoshi to take Mamta Kulkarni back into China Gate.

A still from Deewar. Click for bigger pic!
Deewar is arguably the most famous film on an underworld don, in its case Haji Mastan. But, in deference to audience dictates, the protagonist in the film, who survived as long as he bore a plate with the number 786 which is significant to Islam, dies at the hands of his honest brother.

To give the role authenticity, Amitabh Bachchan reportedly met Haji Mastan to study his mannerisms. Ironically, the son of Deewar's producer Gulshan Rai, Rajiv, himself recently became a target of extortion and has now settled abroad.

The film gave rise to a rash of clones, many of whom played to death the brothers-on-two-sides-of-the-law theme.

Feroz Khan's Dharmatma had Premnath playing the matka king Ratan Khatri.

Kamal Hasan's Nayakan, remade in Hindi as Dayavan was based on the life of Varadarajan Mudaliar. Apparently, Kamal Hasan and his actress wife Sarika attended Mudaliar's funeral. Govind Nihalani's Ardh Satya and Yash Chopra's Mashaal too pay cinematic homage to the don, albeit differently.

A still from Agneepath. Click for bigger pic!
Amitabh Bachchan came back to play a goon in Agneepath, this role based on the life of Maharashtrian gangster Manya Surve, Mithun Chakraborty playing the hero. The film bombed at the box office, especially since Bachchan had also tried to copy the man's voice. But the role won Bachchan a national award.

Shashilal Nair's Angaar was allegedly based on the life of Amar Naik, whose father Maruti was a vegetable vendor at Dadar. Amar Naik allegedly took the violent road after his father was brutally beaten by goons seeking extortion money.

Based on Naik's brother Ashwin was Anil Kapoor's role in Parinda, about how a criminal's brother is drawn into crime. Ashwin and his wife Neeta were shot at while returning from the airport. They both survived, but sent Ashwin Naik irrevocably down the road to crime.

Anil Kapoor Click for bigger pic!
Allegedly in the interests of preserving authenticity of depicting the character, Anil Kapoor once met Dawood Ibrahim. When pictures of him with gangland leader found its way into a magazine, the officials of the Central Bureau of Investigation came calling.

Kapoor admitted he had met Ibrahim, and said the man was more upset that the star had also met a member of a rival gang in Bombay.

"I told him that I was playing the role of a henchman in Mahesh Bhatt's Awargi and I had to pick up a few tips," said Kapoor later. Satisfied, Ibrahim told him he had been a fan of Kapoor ever since he saw Mashaal.

Dawood Ibrahim Click for bigger pic!
Stuff for a mutual admiration society, one would think.

In most of these films it is circumstances that forced the underworld figure into crime. So the villain is usually all mush beneath the gruff exterior. And the guardians of the law aren't quite what they are touted to be.

Will Satya be any different. We'll see.

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