NEW DELHI — Bollywood is reeling after police played tapes of phone conversations in court alleged to be between underworld boss Chhota Shakeel and four Indian film personalities revealing a plot to kill actor Hrithik Roshan.
The conversation purportedly also proves Pakistan-based Shakeel’s involvement in Bollywood film funding.
Police introduced the tapes Monday in a Mumbai court trial of producer Bharat Shah, film producer Nasim Rizvi, his assistant Abdul Rahim Allah Baksh and Dubai diamond merchant Mohammed Shamsuddin, who are accused of attempts to murder Roshan; his father, director Rakesh Roshan; and thesp Shah Rukh Khan (“Devdas”) between February 1999 and December 2000.
The four also are charged with producing “Chori chori chupke chupke” (Secretly and on the Sly) on behalf of a crime syndicate and with conspiracy to kill police officers.
Shah is one of the biggest financiers in the cash-starved industry; current hit “Devdas” (Pining Lover), India’s most expensive film ever, is his latest venture.
In the 45 minutes of sometimes rambling conversation on tape, actor Sanjay Dutt asks Shakeel about favors the gangster had promised him and complains about actors including Roshan.
Shakeel assures Dutt that Roshan “will not be around for too many days.”
Film financing is also discussed, including backing for “Devdas.”
If the tape is accepted as evidence by the court, further proof would be added to long-standing claims of links between the underworld and India’s prolific film industry.
The release of the tapes has added to the jitters of Bollywood figures following a fresh bout of extortion threats.
Police on Tuesday confirmed that the underworld’s reach has extended in the past two months, with many industryites receiving threatening calls from gangsters belonging to outfits headed by Shakeel, Chota Rajan, Abu Salem and Karachi-based Dawood Ibrahim.
Deputy chief minister Chagan Bhujbal of the eastern Indian state of Maharashtra, which includes Mumbai, said police had been giving security to all those facing extortion threats.
“Most of these who have been seeking security are from Bollywood,” he said.
Who’s been threatened
Gangsters are known to have threatened actors Amitabh Bachchan, Salman Khan and Shah Rukh Khan. Actresses Urmila Matondkar, Juhi Chawla, Manisha Koirala and Sonali Bendre also have been targeted.
First hint of the Bollywood-underworld connection came after a series of bomb blasts killed more than 300 people in Mumbai in 1993, allegedly masterminded by Ibrahim.
Dutt was jailed for more than 18 months for allegedly playing a role in the bombings, but was later released on bail.
According to producer-director Mahesh Bhatt, fear swept the film community in 1997 when leading producer Gulshan Kumar was shot dead in broad daylight by gangsters.
“It was from then that the industry people got scared as they believed that not even the police could save them,” he said.
Directors such as Rakesh Roshan and Rajiv Rai also have been shot at by gangsters.
Mumbai police earlier this year gunned down gangsters planning to kill film star Aamir Khan and director Ashutosh Gowarikar, the team behind Oscar-nominated “Lagaan.”
The Indian government has been making efforts to oust the criminal organizations from the film industry for the past two years by making film financing possible through legalized sources.