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Wednesday, 17 July, 2002, 17:01 GMT 18:01 UK
Bollywood shooting raises mafia fears
Koirala
Koirala has been threatened before

Four gunmen allegedly on their way to kidnap one of Bollywood's top stars, Manisha Koirala, have been gunned down by Bombay police.

According to the police - who laid a trap for the kidnappers on Tuesday following a tip-off - the four gangsters were driving to Koirala's home in north Bombay when they were challenged.

"Instead of surrendering they opened fire and were subsequently killed in the exchange," according to police official Pradeep Shinde.

The incident has focused attention on an extortion campaign against Indian film personalities.

gun
The four gunmen were killed during the shooting
Police said the gunmen were working for Abu Salem, a mafia don who runs his Bombay empire from a base in the United Arab Emirates.

This is not the first time Koirala has been threatened by the underworld.

Last year her secretary and film producer, Ajit Dewani, was shot dead by gunmen allegedly working for a Dubai-based don.

And earlier this year police also claimed to have foiled an attempt to kidnap Koirala - who is related to the former prime minister of Nepal, GP Koirala - in the southern city of Madras.

Gunshot in car
The gunmen had been driving to north Bombay
Bollywood director Mahesh Bhatt, a friend of Koirala's, said the actress is now concerned about being linked to the shootings.

He told the BBC that she wanted maximum protection including bodyguards if her life was in danger.

Koirala's experience of the underworld targeting Bollywood personalities is not an isolated one, however.

Earlier in the year the police also claimed to have foiled an attempt to kill Aamir Khan, the producer of Oscar-nominated Lagaan.

And just a couple of weeks ago gangsters fired gunshots at producer and director, Lawrence D'Souza, at his north Bombay office but he escaped unhurt.

Koirala
Koirala is a popular actress
According to the police the shots may have been deliberately fired to miss D'Souza - as a warning and to intimidate him into paying the ransom amount being demanded by mafia dons.

There is hardly a top Indian film personality - be it legendary actor Amitabh Bachchan, superstars like Shah Ruskh Khan, Hrithik Roshan and actresses like Sonali Bendre, Urmila Matondkar and Juhi Chawla - who has not received extortion threats.


Most stars follow an elaborate security drill

Security chief
Anil Khanna
While Bollywood stars have always been a soft target, the trend has increased this year, according to the police.

The mafia's involvement in the Indian film industry dates back to the 1990s.

As production costs soared, well-known Indian film-makers asked known underworld dons to chip in with finances.

Banks refused to back Bollywood, with 90% of films flopping at the box office.

Hrithik Roshan
Gangs have tried to extort money from Hrithik Roshan
The underworld stepped in with money but not content with being just financiers, they gradually graduated to film production.

Soon they were harrassing and threatening stars, asking for preferential bulk dates for films being made with mafia backing.

Realising the kind of big money some of the stars were making, mafia dons also realised extortion could become another source of income for them.

Round-the-clock police cover has been given to as many as 30 film personalities since the beginning of this year.

'Protected'

One of India's largest security firm, Tops, is currently providing security for 14 film personalities.

Tops chief operating officer Anil Khanna said all Bollywood stars now have private security.

"Most of them follow an elaborate security drill now and wherever they go - be it a party, studio, outdoor location and even in their home - they are now protected by our officers," Mr Khanna told the BBC.

"Five years back they were not so concerned and led a fairly carefree life, mixing easily with fans. It's all a thing of the past now."

See also:

12 Jul 02 | South Asia
01 Jul 02 | Entertainment
26 Jun 02 | Entertainment
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