The harassed, extorted life of Bollywood celebrities

Source :SIFY
Last Updated: Sat, Oct 30th, 2021, 07:28:44hrs
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As a foreigner working in Bollywood, he had no idea what ‘chai-pani’ meant. Thus, when he went to renew his work visa a month before it was due, he did not grease palms. A month later his passport was compounded, he was called a foreigner staying illegally in India for overstaying just a day due to visa non-extension, taken into custody immediately and his passport was blacklisted.

Thus began a decade-long ordeal not just for him, but his Indian actress girlfriend. The two married, had children but keep fighting to clear his name. Their careers took a backseat. Running pillar to post they got a ringside view of how the system – customs and narcotic departments, FRRO, BMC, politicians, cops, bureaucrats, etc. routinely grind and extort Bollywood actors, directors, producers, etc. Cases are slapped on those who fall afoul of them, even small fries like this man and his girlfriend and the ‘process is the punishment’ that the Indian judiciary is, is unleashed on them.

The Aryan Khan ‘drug case’ is throwing a lot of these unsavoury allegations into the limelight. Many of them are being hurled by NCP leader and Maharashtra minister Nawab Malik. The Indian Express reporting his accusation in an article titled, ‘Extortion by Wankhede..’ states that: “ NCB zonal director Sameer Wankhede had planted drugs and foisted false cases on people.

You may love or hate film stars, producers, or directors for what they do or do not do, but do not for a moment think that their lives are easy.

During the gangster days, they paid protection money. Photos of Bollywood stars with dreaded mob bosses are not of them being there of their own volition, but being forced or blackmailed to do so. Often, these extortionists invested in films. Hence being in their good books also got them work.

But if you crossed them, you met the fate of a Gulshan Kumar. Rakesh Roshan, Manmohan Shetty, and Rajiv Rai survived to see the end of that evil.

However, harassment and extortion did not end after the gangsters were gunned down. Like Nawab Malik accuses, it only changed shape and fear. Mumbai industry folks no longer feared for their lives if they did not pay ‘chai-pani’ at different stages, but they could never escape paying it. E.g. a couple of crores paid under the table to authorities is no big deal for a producer whose cast and crew go in and out of foreign shoots all the time. If even one of them is stopped for any flimsy reason, they stand to lose many times more.

It’s not difficult to harass a celebrity. Even if we ignore the bad habits that indeed some of them have, authorities have enough fodder for harassment and extortion. You built an extra canopy for shade in the veranda of your office? Part of your office along with the canopy could be demolished and a case could be filed which will see you and your staff going to court for years. There could be Income Tax or Enforcement Directorate raids. Your outdoor shoots could stop getting permissions, indoor shoots disrupted by a mob wanting to beat you up, throw ink at your face.

Let’s not even talk of what your female celebrities go through. No matter how big they are in the industry and the eyes of their fans, a female celebrity does not stop facing harassment from the higher ups. The good ones make subtle hints. The bad ones try to do horrible things.

Many of these are just the ‘legal’ ways of harassment. Nawab Malik alleges that often drugs are planted on the stars and in their homes.

And it’s not just money that is extorted. Many of them love to be ‘invited’ to the best parties or coveted award shows. In the age of social media, they flaunt proximity to the stars. Many, it is said, do it simply to feel powerful. Wouldn’t you if the big superstar who has the nation eating out of his or her hand, sits two hours outside your office waiting for you to finish your ‘meeting’?  

Atop all these now, is the shine of a ‘new India’. The common masses today take evil pleasure in harassing and trolling those of the ‘wrong religion’. The man who acted in ‘My Name is Khan’ where he pronounces ‘I am not a terrorist' would be first in line for an attack in this new India. Shah Rukh Khan – the heartthrob and symbol of India for decades – did not help his case either when in 2015 he became the first of the big guns to underline the bigotry, intolerance, and hatred in this new India. He has faced repercussions ever since – not just the visible troll kind but the unseen kind as well where for example malleable producers can be gently coerced into not hiring him anymore.

And the worst thing for the architects of this new India is old Bollywood. It is a problematic place in many ways but it is also the place where religion does not matter. Men and women marry, get divorced, and get married again to someone of a different religion all the time. Some of its biggest producers, directors, and stars are gay or bisexual or something else entirely and no one really cares here. And this cornucopia of diversity is intolerable to many.

Satre once wrote, “Anyone, at any time, may equally find himself victim or executioner.” The same film folks who know what humiliation is thanks to these ‘authorities’, do not flinch an inch before they inflict the same on those below them. They are often horrible bosses and co-workers, backstabbing others at the drop of a silence. Hence, this piece is not to give a free pass to your favourite stars, producers, or directors. It is just to remind you that the same limelight you envy them for, is also a Damocles sword hanging by a thread over their necks.

The ordeal of the ‘chai-pani’ couple lasted a full decade, multiple nations, many Indian courts including the Supreme Court and finally a good minister who took pity on their plight and finally moved the system to quash the baseless case. However, just as they were breathing easy, he was arrested once again and spent nearly a year in prison. And as the punishment of the process begins anew, it is fascinating – in the light of the Aryan Khan and the previous Rhea Chakraborty case – to remember what he was charged with this time: drug possession.

(Satyen K. Bordoloi is a scriptwriter, journalist based in Mumbai. He loves to let his pen roam the intersection of artificial intelligence, consciousness, and quantum mechanics. His written words have appeared in many Indian and foreign publications.)

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