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The price of fortune

With the recent Abu Salem-Monica Bedi episode making headlines, Bollywood's nexus with the underworld becomes all the more clear. V.GANGADHAR dwells on what draws starlets to real life dons.


WHEN ACTRESS Monica Bedi was arrested abroad along with the notorious gangster, Abu Salem, Bollywood was excited. Monica Bedi was among the latest to link her life and profession to a real life don. In the process she managed to get a few roles to play. Not endowed with any particular talent, Monica obviously made full use of her dalliance with the gangster who was a keen follower of the Bollywood film industry and accused of masterminding attacks on producers, directors and stars who refused to cough up huge extortion money.


Operating from different cities abroad, Salem had his henchmen threaten Bollywood bigwigs. He also financed an occasional film and was reported to be generous in doling out money, at an exorbitant interest, to Bollywood big shots who were short of cash. Of course, they had to pay a price. Mostly it was money, but Abu Salem, it was reported, often insisted that his girl friend (now wife), Monica Bedi, be given roles in these films. So Monica Bedi found her name in the credits of forgettable films such as, "Suraksha". "Jodi Number 1" did fairly well, but Rajiv Rai's ``Pyar, Ishq Aur Mohabbat," which had a large star cast, sank without a trace. Monica of course, did not set the screen aflame with her performances in these films — her presence was barely noted by critics. But everyone knew who was backing her.


Bollywood producers who needed cash knew they could not fool around with men like Salem. The loans had to be repaid, distribution rights handed over and the girl friend given a role! Monica Bedi was only following in the footsteps of actresses like Mandakini, Komilla Wirk and others.

Kalpana Iyer.

Mandakini who leapt to instant stardom with Raj Kapoor's ``Ram Teri Ganga Maili" which became a super hit, subsequently linked her life and career with Dawood Ibrahim, reportedly married him and is mother of a child. Mandakini could have gone places in Bollywood with Dawood's clout in the industry but appeared to prefer domestic bliss.

Such liaisons were more frequent during the 1980s when Bollywood stars and starlets did not mind being seen on TV screens, sitting at the feet of the `don' lording over his special box at the Sharjah cricket ground. They readily accepted invitations to `perform' at parties. One of the frequent visitors to the Gulf was Komilla Wirk who had bit roles in second and third rate Hindi films like "Hotel." Then she disappeared, and it was rumoured she had married someone from the Gulf, perhaps a member of one of those royal families. Bollywood's loss was certainly the Gulf's gain.

Her association with Abu Salem got her a few roles, all right, but it has more recently landed her in hot water... Monica Bedi.

Such starlets who were pushed by their Godfathers into the industry could not and did not aspire for the heroine's roles. They lacked the looks and talents. Side roles were welcome and the vamp role was much sought after. But their Godfathers saw to it that their women were always well covered, and not seen in public holding liquor glasses and smouldering cigarettes. These were the trademarks of the traditional molls or vamps on the Hindi screen. Such roles had existed even before Bollywood became corrupt with the interference of mafia dons. But the vamps of yesteryear, despite wearing short skirts, and dancing at nightclubs with cigarettes hanging from their lips, swaying to rhythmic western music, did not end up as gangsters' molls in real life. Take the case of Kuldip Kaur, Helen, Bindu and others.

On the screen they enacted outlandish roles, supporting and obviously going to bed with baddies like `Raabert', `Tiger' or simply `Boss'.

Mandakini lept to stardom with ``Ram Teri Ganga Maili'', but subsequently linked her life and career with Dawood Ibrahim.

They were part of all the villains' conspiracies to harass the hero and the heroine and glossed over their agony in the torture scenes before accepting their fate and going to jail once goodness asserted itself. They were the Ritas, the Marys and the Mona Daaarlings of the gangsters.

The vamps of the past had no links with the underworld or the mafia dons, but some of them did have stormy personal lives. Kalpana Iyer and Aruna Irani dallied with married actors like Amjad Khan and Mehmood. Helen was exploited for several years by dance director P. L. Raj before she married screen writer, Salim. Cuckoo died penniless in a city hospital. Bindu fared much better, married to a Gujarati businessman.Mention to them the possibility of being a gangster's moll in real life they would be indignant and shocked. But most of them lived and worked in a different era, when producers managed without underworld money and anti-social elements kept away from the film industry. Today, despite the links of members of the underworld to the devastating Mumbai blasts of the early 1990s, there are starlets ready to link their lives with dons, if that would bring them money, publicity and minor roles.

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