The Tribune - Spectrum

Sunday, January 21, 2001
Lead Article

The Rise and Fall of Bharat Shah

Bharat Shah being arrested
By V. Gangadhar

THE Chori Chori is no longer Chupke Chupke. For over a week it has been on the front pages of the newspapers and lead story in the TV news. What began with the arrest of Nazim Rizvi, producer of Bollywood potboiler, Chori Chori Chupke Chupke for his alleged links with Mumbai’s underworld Don Chhota Shakeel had snowballed into what the city police claim a major coup. In a daring move, the Mumbai police arrested ‘Mr Money Bags’, Bharat Shah, a well-known figure in the diamond trade who was also the biggest financier of Hindi films.

Shah, whose bail application is pending before a Mumbai court, had been charged under Section 3, sub section (3) & (4) of the Maharashtra Control of the Organised Crime Act (MCOCA) which was introduced to replace the existing Terrorists and Disruptive Activities (Preventive) Act, TADA. The Prosecution had to prove that Shah was part of organised criminal activities.


A conviction on this score carried a life sentence. Shah’s arrest raised a furore among film and diamond industry circles. The industry observed an one-day strike and issued statements in the dailies extolling his virtues as a businessman and leader in the trade. Film producers were equally shocked. Over the years, Shah had created the impression of being invincible.

The police said they had taped conversations between Rizvi and Chhota Shakeel, a trusted aide of notorious gangster Dawood Ibrahim, where Shah’s name was often mentioned. That was not all. They also claimed possession of another tape which had recorded a damaging conversation between Shah and Shakeel. The gist of the conversation in both the tapes was clearly the nexus between the mafia and the Hindi film world. Shah claimed in the court he was innocent and was being framed. Shakeel, while talking to a couple of Mumbai journalists, gave a clean chit to the diamond trader. "The voice in the tape is not mine. The language is also not mine. Shah is a ‘white aadmi’ and I had nothing to do with him," Shakeel reportedly told the Mumbai journalists. He also explained that he did not believe in investing in the fickle film industry in Mumbai and Shah was being punished for being close to a Shiv Sena leader in the city.

The conclusions were easy to reach. The Deputy Chief Minister of Maharashtra who also held the Home portfolio, Chhagan Bhujbal, had taken a personal interest in Shah’s arrest. Bhujbal who had defected from the Shiv Sena several years back had been stalking the Sena Chief, Bal Thackeray, but without success. Bhujbal was primarily responsible for the arrest of Thackeray for his role ( making inflammatory speeches) in the riots which rocked the city in 1991-92. A city magistrate threw out the case on the ground it was time-barred.

Bhujbal was a tenacious politician. Of course, he denied that Bharat Shah’s arrest had anything to do with his links with the Sena. But it was an open secret that the entire Thackeray family was besotted with Hindi films. The SS Chief’s daughter-in-law, Smita, had made a film, Hasina Maan Jayegi, which again was financed by Bharat Shah. Shah’s arrest had clearly embarrassed the Sena and the Thackeray clan which had no option but to keep quiet.

What were the contents of the damaging tape? Bhujbal told the media that Bharat Shah and Shakeel were found discussing a Rs 75-lakh sum of extortion money from a leading city businessman Morani who organised film stars’ performance tours abroad. Another issue discussed was a havala racket of $ 50,000 involving a Dubai-based man, Bhatija. The police said it was public knowledge that Shah was a key figure used to pressurise key film personalities to act in selected movies, reserve exclusive shooting dates and accept less then their normal rates. These movies were made by producers who had links with mafia dons.

The role of the mafia dons in manipulating Hindi film industry was no longer shadowy. The taped telephone conversations between producer Rizvi and Shakeel indicated the extent of the rot in the industry. When Rizvi complained that the Commissioner of Police, Mumbai ( M.M Singh) was a hard nut to crack and was exerting pressure on those with Mafia links, Shakeel reportedly assured him, "Tum film ko dekho, Shah (Bharat) Commissioner ko dekhega". It was clear that Shah was to use his extensive clout with local as well as politicians from the Centre, and get Commissioner Singh transferred.

Shah with film stars.Was Bharat Shah really so powerful? A Palanpur Jain, he controlled a diamond business worth Rs 1000 crore. Out of this, more than Rs 100 crore were invested in Hindi films. Over the past 20 years, Shah had financed nearly 75 films, many of them blockbusters. Bollywood watchers of late had observed a mysterious switchover of various leading producers (Ramgopal Varma, Mani Ratnam and Sanjay Leela Bhansali) from financier Jhanu Sugand to Bharat Shah. Bhansali’s box office hit, Hum dil de chuke sanam was financed by Sugand, but the producer opted for Bharat Shah for his forthcoming, Devdas. Did Shah apply any pressure?

Shah was a very visible, ‘Mr Hollywood’. Dressed in black trousers and French-designed half-sleeved shirts, he was a much-photographed media celebrity. He drove round in expensive, foreign cares, mostly BMWs or Mercedes Benzes In the diamond industry, he led his rivals in the export trade and had developed ‘powerful connections’ at the Centre.

During the BJP-Shiv Sena rule in Maharshtra, 10 of his films received major concessions. On the day of Shah’s arrest, the Sensex crashed by 63 points.

The course of events during the past week made it clear that the state government was determined to get Shah who had gone to Delhi to seek political support for his problems with the police. The diamond tycoon was lulled into a sense of false security, when the police appeared to focus more attention on film financiers, Harish Sughand and Jhamu Sunghand and even conducted mock raids at their offices and homes and brought Harish to the police station for questioning. Feeling rather safe, the Diamond King returned to his base and was brought twice to the Crime Branch office for questioning. On the third occasion, they intercepted the silver-grey ‘Maruti Esteem’ he was travelling and brought him back. The police played a tape, which Shah refused to identify, which reportedly had recorded a conversation between himself and Shakeel. Like any other VVIP prisoner, Shah ‘fell ill’ but was quickly discharged from hospital. The protests from the film industry over Shah’s arrest were more muted than those from the diamond trade which even made an issue of Shah being the recipient of the ‘Highest Export Earner for the last three years’. It was not known what the award had to do with his present predicament. While ‘showman’ Subash Ghai termed the Shah arrest as part of a ‘witch-hunt’, many other producers kept quiet. They knew that Bharat Shah was a harsh financier In return for his liquidity which he offered for a new film, he demanded and received 50 per cent of its earnings from satellite and music rights. His monthly interest rate of 2.5 per cent was higher than the normal two per cent rate. He also insisted on retaining 12 per cent of the money at which the film was distributed as against the normal rate of 10 per cent.

Producers alleged that Shah often took over their projects, in the process reducing their share of the profits. Perhaps, that was why Yash Chopra, Boney Kapoor, Rakesh Roshan and other well-known producers seldom sought his help.

Though film making had been declared an industry, conditions were still chaotic. This was mainly due to the exorbitant demands of the stars and the meek attitude of some of the producers in giving in to them. A second rung producer often found that stars who had reached the top rung while working for him, stalled proceedings while shooting for his next film because they preferred offering dates to producers of the first rung. He could then approach the underworld for help, for a price. If the producer was willing to pay them what they demanded, they stepped in and ‘ordered’ the stars to co-operate. The mafia also inducted friendly and pliable producers to launch films starring the top hero and heroine and saw to it that they received dates on priority basis. When a film like Rakesh Roshan’s Kaho na pyar hai became a hit without their interference, the mafia demanded its overseas rights. Roshan refused and survived an assassination attempt. The major culprits were, however, the stars who demanded crores for their work. The mafia stepped in wherever it smelt excessive money. Business in Mumbai was dull for the mafia, because the building trade from where it got most of its loot had gone into recession. Extortion did not bring too much money. So Bollywood was became a hunting ground.

Persons who flaunted their wealth were also targeted by the media. In the case of Bharat Shah, while it was not known if he had contributed anything of his own money, the Mafia obviously found him a useful tool because of his power and contacts within the industry. The Mumbai police were confident that if big-time politicians did not interfere, they had a strong case against Bharat Shah and could be able to break the nexus between the mafia and the Hindi film industry. This will come as a big relief for most of the honest produces who made films for the sheer love of it.