Within the Mumbai underworld, it was Chhota Rajan who provided the first resistance to the unquestioned reign of Dawood Ibrahim.
Recently Aadesh Shrivastava, a Hindi playback singer and a music composer died at a very young age of 51 due to cancer. Bollywood, which is famous for its bonhomie and glamour quotient even in death and funeral processions was mostly missing throughout Shrivastava’s illness and death, so much so that his wife, yesteryear starlet Vijayata Pandit had to virtually beg for support for her husband’s very expensive treatment. Gossip columnists and bloggers were quick to point out that one of the reasons why the Mumbai film industry was lukewarm towards Aadesh was probably due to his past history of strong protestations against Pakistani artists plying their trade in Bollywood. Indeed, Aadesh’s was a rare voice in the Hindi film world that had raised ‘patriotic concerns’ about giving star status to singers and actors of a hostile state which has sponsored terror attacks on India.
Bollywood is an extremely “secularized” territory where any notions of overt nationalism are not only scoffed at but also nipped in the bud because such tendencies could ‘dangerously’ lead to “Hinduization” of the industry (sic). Thus a talentless music composer like Anu Malik could achieve star status by singing in a Don’s birthday in the late 80’s while an Aadesh Shrivastava finds no support even for cancer treatment. This dark underbelly of the glamour industry of Mumbai which often gets completely glossed over by stereotypical interviews of actors like Naseeruddin Shah venting out their imaginary grievances must be presented in its full glory, lest we forget the past realities.
Thus on a cold Monday evening when news of the arrest of Chhota Rajan was flashed on our TV screens, we ought to once again throw light on the dark side of Bollywood’s past that hardly finds mention in our TV studio debates. ‘Secular Bollywood’ as we have come to know of it today, once had a history bloodied by the innocent lives of many ordinary Indians.
Some 15 years ago, on February 7th 2001, three unidentified men entered the third floor office of film producer Hanif Kadawala and shot him dead at point blank range with a .32 bore revolver. Hanif was out on bail for some time before he was killed and had come to symbolize the helplessness of the state in the wake of daylight terrorism. He was the fifth person to be killed in a short span of time. Salim Kurla, Majid Khan, Shakeel Ahmed and Mohammad Jindra were the four others who had met a similar fate before Hanif. All these 5 individuals were part of the Dawood Ibrahim gang that had directly managed the first major Islamist terrorist attack in the modern world in the form of Mumbai bomb blasts of 1993.
All these killings were carried out by the Chhota Rajan’s gang members who had by then become famous as the “Hindu Don” of Mumbai. A counter terrorism expert of Mumbai provides this rather interesting perspective “While it is important to stress here that there should be absolutely no space for any kind of violence in a civilized democracy, what Chhota Rajan provided in those dark years was a much needed counterbalance to an otherwise completely overwhelming control of Dawood Ibrahim especially in the wake of his new-found alliance with Pakistani terror organizations.” One cannot even begin to fathom the importance of the rise of the “Hindu Mafia” in Mumbai without understanding the dark years of Bollywood during the 1980’s and 1990’s, for it was in this era that the city of gold and glamor had gone into a tailspin of underworld sponsored violence.
It is not as if that Mumbai underworld did not take an interest in Bollywood movies before the arrival of the mercurial don Dawood Ibrahim. Indeed, Haji Mastan did have his share of glitz and glamor quotient as he was known to finance many B grade movies and was also rumored to be promoting a Madhubala lookalike starlet for a few years before he realized the futility of his endeavors. Yet, it was Dawood who was not merely interested in bit roles of Bollywood and instead exerted total control over the movie industry.
Although no clear data of that era is available because of shady financial affairs of the film world, as per conservative estimates, of the 250 crore rupees total annual production costs of Bollywood in the 1990’s, nearly 50 crore rupees was supposed to be “underworld money”. This is how Dawood controlled Bollywood and was able to get almost every top film star of that era to go for the infamous “raat roki” in Dubai (literally, an overnight stopover at Dawood’s den in Dubai). It was not just the direct control of Dawood and his men on Bollywood that marked the 1990’s but also the rise of a large number of shady producers and film makers who had access to nearly unlimited “hot money” and were simply not affected by box office receipts or economics of the movie making business.
Hanif Kadawala was one such film producer who along with his partner Sameer Hingora had graduated from being a small time pirated video cassette seller to a big film producer. It was an era when politicization of criminals had become the reality of heartland politics while Mafia-ization of Bollywood was the reality of Mumbai. Sanjay Dutt was merely the tip of the iceberg of this Mafia control of Mumbai. Mukesh Duggal, Lawrence Dsouza, Sudhakar Bokade and hit music director Nadeem (of the Nadeem-Shravan duo) were just some other big film personalities of that era who had either risen from Mumbai Mafia or allegedly had direct links with the underworld.
The heady cocktail of Bollywood, Mafia and the rise of the Islamist terrorism had exerted such a control over Mumbai that even being a devout Hindu in such an atmosphere was fatal. The reign of terror had reached its zenith in the late 90’s when Gulshan Kumar, the big boss of T-Series was murdered in broad daylight. Gulshan Kumar was a devout Hindu who produced hundreds of Hindu religious music albums every year to propagate Hinduism among the masses which had not gone down well with the Islamist Mafia of Mumbai.
Notorious Mumbai underworld don Abu Salem had earlier demanded a regular hafta of 5 lakh rupees every month from Gulshan Kumar who had steadfastly refused to pay up and had even gone to the extent of insulting Salem by insisting that he “would rather donate the money to Mata Vaishno Devi’s Bhandara”. In order to teach a lesson to Hindu film makers to remain subservient to the Muslim Mafia of Mumbai, Gulshan Kumar was bumped off near Jeeteshwar Mahadev temple of Andheri in August 1997.
The sheer power of Mumbai’s mafia had grown to such extent that many in Bollywood and even local politicians had begun to use a new term to describe Dawood’s control over the city known as GoD – Government of Dawood! Ibrahim and his cohorts virtually ran a parallel rule of the underworld across the financial capital of India by the mid-90’s.
It was in such a nightmarish atmosphere that the ‘Hindu Mafia’ had risen out of Mumbai. Chhota Rajan’s hitmen avenged Mumbai bomb blasts using targeted counter violence against Dawood’s henchmen. For the first time Dawood and his fellow Islamist mafia dons felt threatened and had to vacate large spaces of Mumbai including Bollywood. For the first time, Dawood’s Islamist stranglehold over Mumbai filmdom was subjected to an alternate power centre which was equally capable of inflicting damage.
Chhota Rajan’s arrest this week is probably just the beginning of India’s criminal justice system finally finding its moorings to cleanse the dark underbelly of Mumbai, but we must never forget the context of the rebellion of Rajan without whose counterbalance a largely Islamist underworld would probably have subjugated the whole of glamour industry by now. At the end of the day, only when Dawood would finally be brought to justice would we be able to write the final chapter of the history of those dark years of Mumbai. Thankfully, India’s security ecosystem is presently in very competent hands and we are probably the closest we have ever been to unleash the power of India’s long arms of justice on to D-Company.