July 29, 2002


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Varsha Bhosle

Married to the mob

On November 6, 2000, Judge Pramod Kode of the designated TADA court exempted for two months 98 accused -- including film star Sanjay Dutt -- in the Bombay serial blasts case. The court was to consider the entire evidence, running into 12,000 pages, for preparing the questions which would be put to each accused under Section 313 of the CrPC at the end of the trial. The CBI had sought time till November 16 to file its reply to a defence application urging the court to discharge those accused against whom the agency had failed to tender evidence during the trial. Among those who had applied for bail was Manzoor Sayeed, who is alleged to have transported weapons from the residence of Sanjay Dutt to the house of co-accused Zebunisa Kazi; his plea was to be heard by the court on November 9.

Pretty hairy stuff, wouldn't you say? Under such circumstance, what would you or I have done next? Visit temples/mosques, hold Satya Narayan pujas...? Likely. Get gloriously drunk? Perhaps. Brainstorm with the lawyers for different tacks to establish our innocence? Certainly. Keep our noses out of further trouble? Is the Pope Catholic?!

But that applies to people like you and I -- average human beings who can invite hardship by making a bad judgement call or through an act of bravado or some stupid ideal, or even for money. Shit happens -- and happens to all. However, once we get the thick end of the stick -- like, say, a year or two in prison, or even a month of chakkars to the police station -- all those "ideals" quickly evaporate and all we want is to forget the nightmare and get on with our lives -- on the right side of the law. Which then entails our carefully scrutinising each step before we even think of lifting a foot. And that's what the punitive system is for -- not to brand us forever as criminals, but to reform us. And with the majority of people, especially those of the middle-class, it works.

Now let's see what happened between November 6 -- when the TADA court warned all the accused not to leave the state during the exemption -- and November 16, when the CBI was to dispute the application seeking the discharge of, amongst others, Manzoor Sayeed... On the night of November 11, from the Hotel Taj Residency in Nashik, accused Sanjay Dutt, director Sanjay Gupta, director Mahesh Manjrekar and producer Harish Sugandh spoke on the telephone for 45 minutes to Chhota Shakeel in Karachi. Even if the conversation between Dutt and the hoodlum were to be totally inane and harmless, that's some staying-out-of-trouble, no?

The entire conversation between the gangster and the celluloid thug and his henchmen had been taped by the CBI and produced as evidence -- and played in an open court for the first time last week. Only Mid Day put the entire transcript, along with the audio, on its website. Other "national" publications are understandably squeamish about publicising the tapes: Some depend upon the filmwallahs' benevolence to their "awards nite" galas, FM stations and other Bollywood-related money-spinners, while others wouldn't want to rock Sunil Dutt's "secular" Gujarat-to-Kashmir yatra or whatever it is...

My first-ever politics-related article was written for The Sunday Observer of July 17, 1994, a short but vicious piece which blasted the film industry's Einsteins for demonstrating outside Tihar jail demanding Master Dutt's release. The closing paragraph was: "Even if Sanjay's crime is very superficial, and if, as is often suggested, he is simply being made an example, it is still a jolly good thing. Like the instance of the caning of the American lad in Singapore, this case will deter our film-crazy youth like no other ever will. With his pedigree of social service, Sanjay should be grateful for this opportunity of finally doing some public good." But to be perfectly frank, I softened towards Dutt over the years. Deep down, I just couldn't believe that he may have stored weapons with the intention of aiding the underworld; maybe he just couldn't refuse a friend. There was no point in hounding him since doing time must have made the twit wiser, I thought.

Obviously, not. Sanjubaba is not the sort of person who learns. He continued to associate with gangsters even after his release from Tihar, and his close friends in Bollywood are those whose works only glamorise the underworld. And all this sunk in only after I heard the Shakeel-Dutt tapes.

I'm not sure whether the taped conversation between Chhota Shakeel and these Bollywood goombahs will or should put anybody behind bars. But it can expose these celebrities to the glare of public scrutiny. More significantly, it raises uncomfortable questions about the glamorising of gangland murders, and, most importantly, concealing information from the police.

Take, for instance, Shakeel and Harish Sugandh discussing a murder sequence in Manjrekar's Vaastav; the paraphrasing within brackets is mine:
Shakeel: usko bolna woh to Manjrekar bhangi ka thodi tha, woh to shot hum logon ka tha... woh to bill phaad diya tha uske naam pe [Tell him, the film sequence wasn't Manjrekar's creation. It was what we had committed. But he got the credit]
Harish: ...mein aapka phone uthane ke pehle hi woh decide kar raha tha, maine bola abhi mat kar, abhi thoda garam hain, thoda thanda hone de maamla [Before I picked up the phone, Manjrekar was deciding on a sequence to film. I told him the situation is hot now, wait for things to cool down]
Shakeel: Hum log sequence dete hain, Bangkok vali bolna [Tell him we'll give him the sequence of the Bangkok hit]
Harish: Wohi main bola, poora sequence tujhe milne wala hain [I told him, you'll get the full sequence.]

"Thanda hone de maamla." Meaning, Sugandh knows the line between right and wrong, what's hot and what's not, and when it's time to move. This entity can't claim to be innocent, whichever way one looks at it.

Then Manjrekar takes the phone and Shakeel tells him: "Woh Panvel wala shot tha na... Woh paanch murder ka bataaya jo tum logon ne... Woh jo ek sath murder hue the na... Woh van ke ander... Woh to hum logon ki hi sequence thi na" [That film sequence shot in Panvel, where 5 people are murdered together inside the van. That was our act]. And Manjrekar answers: "Maloom hai, Bhai." [Yes, I know]

Shakeel then offers Manjrekar the "sequence" -- that is, the progression of an actual hit in Bangkok. Manjrekar: "Main sequence bataya inko... Haan maine pehele hi bataaya tha sequence to." [I told them about this hit long ago]
Shakeel: "Aisa terrific hai ke main samjha ke yaad karenge log... Samjhe na, jo planning hai na." [It's such a terrific sequence that people will never forget it. You understand the planning that went behind it?]
Manjrekar: "Sanju ko bataaya tha, bola tu abhi chup baith. Abhi mat bol. Abhi nahin, kabhi to karoonga lekin." [I told Sanju about it. He shut me up. But I will show it at some time or other.]
Shakeel: "Arre, true story jo hain na perfect main de doonga. Kis tarah hum log aage gaye... Kya planning kiya aur kitne time se planning ki... Aur kaisa upar gaye kaisa capture kiya total." [I'll tell you the true events, how we progressed, what we planned and since when... How we reached the top and captured the underworld.]

Then Shakeel talks to Dutt: "Woh Chikna to nahin mila tha na" [Did Hrithik Roshan meet you?]
Sanjay: Nahin bilkul nahin... Main boss ko bola bhi tha London mein [Not at all. I even told that to the boss in London]
Shakeel: Haan haan... In log, in log ke saamne nahin bolo [Ok, ok... Don't say anything in front of these people]

"Boss"? In London? Now who could that be? Tony? Charles? Which name would make Chhota Shakeel caution Dutt?? Could it be Dawood Ibrahim...?

If that weren't bad enough, you hear Sanjay Dutt -- the son of Sunil and Nargis Dutt -- begging the hoodlum to send him a chip (pronounced "cheep") and a rust-coloured article of clothing from Dubai. Oh dear.

But worst of all, you hear Harish Sugandh -- the brother of Jhamu Sugandh -- rail against the filth in the film industry: "Yeh gandagi khatam ho jayegi na to bahut mazaa ayega... Wo zyada hi gandagi ho gayi na... Industry itni satyanash hui hai" [It will be great if all this filthy business vanishes from the industry, it has become simply too dirty]
Shakeel: "Ho jayegi, ho jayegi... Tum logon ki wajeh se hi yeh hua hai... yeh bhai, wo bhai... chalo theek hai, paanch nahin das deta hoon... do nahin paanch deta hoon." [It will be cleansed. But it's become dirty because of you people, the way you keep pleading, and we keep giving more money.]

Then Shakeel says: "Mujhe bahut khabar aa rahi hain ek mahine se... Yeh phone, woh phone, yeh sign karde, woh sign karde." [Since a month, I've been getting news. This phone, that phone, sign this, sign that.]

And you think that both of them are still ruing the underworld's squeeze on the industry -- till Harish says: "Kisiko pata bhi nahin chalta tha... Hum apke paas hi hain... aap jo karenge aap hi kar sakte hain." [Earlier, no one ever got to know about our dealings... But we are with you... only you make things easier for us.]

That's when you realise, this entity is in it over and above his head! He's talking about police surveillance on the industry! I ask you, what separates this low-life from the one in Pakistan? The "art," or whatever it is that the Dutt/Manjrekar fans call their opus...? These are people who revel in gangland hits -- and make money from them by associating with and glamorising the murderers!

Don't get me wrong, I enjoy gangster films probably more than you do! Indeed, The Godfather series and Goodfellas share the top spot on my favourites' list. I love Dewaar and I thoroughly enjoyed Vaastav. But that is NO reason to condone the behaviour of such film-makers. They may not be indictable in the eyes of the law, but the public needs to recognise them for what they are -- unscrupulous dorks out to make a quick buck -- and give them exactly as much respect and adoration as they deserve: Nil.

On July 25, Sanjay Dutt's lawyers, harping on procedural lapses in the Bombay blasts case, pleaded that the "evidence placed by CBI against him was fabricated and hence inadmissible." They argued that the agency "had not produced the original document (in this case magnetic tapes of MTNL) to show that a call was made from his residence to prime conspirator Anees Ibrahim in Dubai." The CBI had relied upon a computer printout of MTNL records to show that a call had been made to Dubai from his residence. (The Hindustan Times, July 25).

This argument related to Dutt's alleged call to a gangster in 1993 -- seven years before his taped conversation with Shakeel. Thanks to the negligence of the police, the court may be forced to, but do you buy Dutt's plea -- after listening to the Shakeel tapes?

On July 19, 2001, Mid Day reported on Kapil Sibal's defense of accused financer Bharat Shah. Sibal said, "Several film personalities have talked to Chhota Shakeel over the telephone. What I am trying to say is that everybody in the film industry is acting under pressure. Witness' statements mention that everybody had received threats from the underworld, be it Sanjay Dutt, Mahesh Manjrekar, Sanjay Gupta, Bharat Shah."

Please follow that link to the audio clips and decide for yourself whether anybody sounds or speaks like a person "acting under pressure." It's funny how the 1990s' Bombay blasts case and this century's Bharat Shah case have become intertwined because of the common denominator: hoodlums. Marry the mob, suffer at leisure.

Varsha Bhosle

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