Veteran actor and screen legend Jaya Bachchan lashed out at fellow actor and member of Parliament Ravi Kishan, as well as the media and the civil society including the public at large, for flogging Bollywood on social media.
In the aftermath of actor Sushant Singh Rajput’s death in June 2020, there has been much furore about the alleged rampant use of drugs in the Hindi film industry.
In what came across as an emotional outburst, Jaya Bachchan, without naming Ravi Kishan chastised him for his comments against the film industry on the floor of the House, saying, “Jis thaali me khaate hain usi mein chhed karte hain (biting the hand that feeds him).”
In the last two months, most television channels and news platforms have conducted their investigations to come out with the indications that there was a drug cartel operating within the industry.
Earlier, Kangana Ranaut’s comments that “99 per cent of Bollywood consumes drugs” had set the cat amongst the pigeons and with each passing day the wrath against the film world had only increased.
When actress Rhea Chakraborty, Sushant Singh Rajput’s girlfriend, was arrested by the Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB), the intensity of the accusations hurled at Bollywood increased manifold.
In light of these developments, Jaya Bachchan’s comment in the Parliament is being seen as the industry’s response at large. The actress said that the entire industry couldn’t be tarnished because of a few people and such statements were meant to divert attention from the state of the economy and unemployment.
Jaya Bachchan also said that the government must stand by the entertainment industry, which provided direct employment every day to 500,000 people and indirect employment to 5 million people.
As the Central Bureau of Investigation continues to probe Sushant Singh Rajput's mysterious death, Kangana Ranaut has continued to attack the Maharastra government as well as the film fraternity for the actor’s untimely death.
The Queen actress, who would perhaps be the only bona fide post-1990s female star in Hindi films to crack the big league without acting opposite the fabled Khan trio -- Aamir, Salman and Shah Rukh — had also commented that ‘many A-listers will be behind bars’ if the NCB ‘enters Bollywood’.
Many within the film industry have supported and welcomed Jaya Bachchan’s comments. Irrespective of where one views the entire issue from, there is a lot to be questioned about the way Bollywood conducts itself.
For decades before the mysterious circumstances surrounding Sushant Singh Rajput’s death, things such as connection with the underworld, domestic violence, groupism, nepotism and sexual abuse have routinely given the film industry a bad name.
Right from the mid-1970s when an underage Rekha was kissed by a much senior co-star, Biswajit, or a Zeenat Aman was publicly thrashed by Sanjay Khan as his wife Zarine cheered him, to the 1990s where Aishwarya Rai was at the receiving end of a physically abusive relationship with Salman Khan, physical and sexual harassment in Bollywood has been a common but unspoken occurrence.
In 2015, an Income Tax Department report using the first-of-its-kind I-T analysis established that suppressing receipts from movies, inflating expenses and out of books payments were rampant in the ‘Bombay film industry’. The report made it clear that the trade was “highly exposed to the black economy.”
A website, Cobrapost, in 2012 alleged that several celebrities were open to taking payments in “black” for paid tweets. In 2011, a Wikileaks cable spoke of the infamous Bollywood-underworld connection and how it welcomed funds from gangsters and politicians, who were on the lookout for ways to launder black money.
The same underworld also reportedly carried out attacks on many such as Rakesh Roshan and producer Manmohan Shetty, whom gangster Abu Salem wanted to be taken out as Sanjay Dutt had done in the then hit film, Vaastav, which, ironically enough dealt with the underworld.
In addition to the using funds from gangsters, Bollywood is also open to ‘round-tripping’, a term used for the illegal act of converting black money into white by routing it to tax havens and then bringing it back to India.
It is here, to use an oft-repeated idiom, where the proverbial plot thickens. While Jaya Bachchan might bat for Bollywood and extol its virtues, the names of her husband, Amitabh Bachchan, and daughter in law, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, appeared in Panama Papers, over 11 million leaked confidential documents from the Mossack Fonseca law firm in Panama that set up shell companies and offshore accounts.
In the book, ‘THE PANAMA PAPERS- The Untold India Story of the Trailblazing Global offshore Investigation’, journalists Ritu Sarin, Jay Mazoomdaar and P Vaidyanathan Iyer write that in 1993, the Bollywood legend Amitabh Bachchan was appointed director in at least four offshore companies.
As per Reserve Bank of India guidelines, Indian citizens were not allowed to start an overseas entity before 2003. The firm’s records also revealed that for at least three years Aishwarya Rai and her family were part of a company incorporated in the British Virgin Islands, a tax haven.
The Panama Papers revelations threw open webs of suspicious financial transactions and also raised questions about secrecy and corruption in the global financial system. Both Amitabh Bachchan and Aishwarya Rai denied the evidence of their offshore involvement found in the Panama Papers documents.
Amitabh Bachchan in fact, issued a statement saying that his name might have been misused. Taking umbrage to the film industry being called a “gutter”, Jaya Bachchan has every right to defend the industry but at the same time, there is also an immediate need to clean up Bollywood, in more ways than one.