Indian actors join real world: Communal strife is intruding on the world's largest film industry, Tim McGirk writes from Bombay

FOR YEARS now, Dilip Kumar, one of India's most famous actors, has lived in semi-retirement in the suburb that is Bombay's version of Beverly Hills. It is a neighbourhood of hanging gardens and mansions where many of its old, rich film stars pass their time reminiscing and clawing apart each other's reputations.

Like many filmi actors, Kumar coveted his privacy. There is a high wall, a gate with several uniformed guards, and a grove of ancient banian trees shielding his residence from view. But now, after the recent Bombay riots, every poor man in town must know Kumar's address. And, the film star wants it that way.

'If I were to make a film of the violence, I know just the title. The Rage in Heaven. How about it?' said Kumar, a man in his seventies with a thin moustache and sad, watery eyes. His white salon, all marble in opulent, movie- star style, has been turned into a command centre for riot relief work. Phones jangled. Outside, a lorry pulled up next to Kumar's red Mercedes and began unloading potatoes, while volunteers stacked bundles of donated clothes against the balustrade on the terrace. At the gate, families whose huts had been torched in last month's sectarian riots waited for food, money and legal help.

'It's bad out there, still. A mob had encircled one slum and they were trying to starve to death the Muslims inside. They hadn't eaten for three days. Twice we tried to break through with a police escort and we were forced back. Finally, we were able to get in with a large police posse,' said Kumar.

Bombay's film industry is far bigger than Hollywood's. The 140 films churned out each year are usually packed with shrieky song-and-dance numbers, coy romances and frenzied car chases. The villain always loses and the film-makers rarely burden the viewer with weighty moral dilemmas. Still, while the city's administration collapsed during two months of religious strife, which left more than 900 people dead, Bombay's normally apathetic film community showed remarkable cohesion and pluck.

Film stars and directors led a 10,000-strong peace procession through neighbourhoods gutted by fire and looting. Some went on a hunger strike beside a statue of Gandhi. Others like Shahbana Azmi, who starred in Roland Joffe's City of Joy, moved through the shantytowns where the rioting was worst, soothing tempers. And a delegation of prominent film people, including Kumar, went to Delhi to plead with the Prime Minister, Narasimha Rao, to save Bombay from being engulfed by religious hatred. Angered by the Congress government's lethargy, Sunil Dutt, a film- star-turned-politician from Bombay, resigned as MP. He and his son Sanjay, an Indian James Dean who is probably the leading male actor, have also been organising aid for the city's 30,000 riot victims.

Until now, religious discrimination was alien to the Bombay film world. There are as many Muslim stars as Hindus and the plots never had a communal twist.

Subhash Ghai, a director, said: 'The heroes of our movies are always secular. If anyone tries to divide by religion or caste, they're the villains.'

Communalism, however, is beginning to intrude into Bombay's cosy film world. Sunil Dutt was attacked twice by Hindu extremist mobs. And more recently, harassment from a group of Hindu neo-fascists, called the Shiv Sena, forced one director to cancel plans to hire a Pakistani Muslim actor. The film industry has enjoyed a strange and often dangerous liaison with Shiv Sena, an organisation behind the latest religious unrest in Bombay.

The Shiv Sena gained strength after the riots, which its leader, Bal Thackeray, described as a victory of the city's Hindus against Muslims. Mr Thackeray is a former satirical cartoonist, a once penniless and timid intellectual who realised in mid-life that he possessed fierce oratorical skills. At home he sits enthroned under a painting of a snarling tiger and he fancies himself as a philosopher-king. 'The powerful third eye of Hinduism is opening,' he proclaims.

Yet Mr Thackeray is feted by the Bombay film people. He is often the guest of honour at their awards banquets and premieres. He is more powerful than Bombay's mayor and, probably, its police chief.

He bestows favours capriciously. The film magazines claim that the Hindu mother of a young starlet turned to the Shiv Sena leader for help in breaking up her daughter's love-affair with a Muslim singer, though Mr Thackeray, ever the gentleman, denies this. A famous actress once appealed to Mr Thackeray after thugs hired by a stage rival kept heckling during her performances. 'He sent over 20 boys with knives. They were ready to stab to death anyone in the audience who booed or walked out during the middle of the show,' said the actress, who preferred not to be identified. 'Luckily, everyone stayed in their seats that night.'

(Photographs omitted)

Life and Style
Cooked up: reducing dietary animal fat might not be as healthy as government advice has led millions of people to believe
healthA look at how governments started advising incorrectly on diets
News
REX/Eye Candy
science
Sport
Angel Di Maria poses with Louis van Gaal after signing for Manchester United
sport
News
peopleGerman paper published pictures of 18-month-old daughter
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Arts and Entertainment
'A voice untroubled by time': Kate Bush
musicKate Bush set to re-enter album charts after first conerts in 35 years
Life and Style
tech
News
people
Life and Style
food + drink
Life and Style
Voices
voices
Sport
Roger Federer is greeted by Michael Jordan following his victory over Marinko Matosevic
tennisRoger Federer gets Michael Jordan's applause following tweener shot in win over Marinko Matosevic
News
peopleJustin Bieber accuses paparazzi of acting 'recklessly' after car crash
Arts and Entertainment
Oppressive atmosphere: the cast of 'Tyrant'
tvIntroducing Tyrant, one of the most hotly anticipated dramas of the year
News
i100
Life and Style
tech
News
Ukrainian Leonid Stadnik, 37, 2.59 meter (8,5 feet) tall, the world's tallest living man, waves as he poses for the media by the Chevrolet Tacuma car presented to him by President of Ukraine Viktor Yushchenko in Kiev on March 24, 2008.
newsPeasant farmer towered at almost 8'5'' - but shunned the limelight
News
Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon in ‘The Front Page’, using an old tech typewriter
media
Life and Style
Could a robot sheepdog find itself working at Skipton Auction Mart?
techModel would allow robots to be programmed to control crowds and save people from burning buildings
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Test Job

TBC: Test Recruiter for iJobs: Job London (Greater)

Head of Marketing - Pensions

£65000 - £75000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based i...

SEN (Visual Impairement) Tutor

£120 - £180 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: Randstad Education are looki...

School Receptionist

£70 - £100 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: School Receptionist - Part ...

Day In a Page

Kate Bush, Hammersmith Apollo music review: A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it

Kate Bush shows a voice untroubled by time

A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it
Robot sheepdog technology could be used to save people from burning buildings

The science of herding is cracked

Mathematical model would allow robots to be programmed to control crowds and save people from burning buildings
Tyrant: Is the world ready for a Middle Eastern 'Dallas'?

This tyrant doesn’t rule

It’s billed as a Middle Eastern ‘Dallas’, so why does Fox’s new drama have a white British star?
Rachael Lander interview: From strung out to playing strings

From strung out to playing strings

Award-winning cellist Rachael Lander’s career was almost destroyed by the alcohol she drank to fight stage fright. Now she’s playing with Elbow and Ellie Goulding
The science of saturated fat: A big fat surprise about nutrition?

A big fat surprise about nutrition?

The science linking saturated fats to heart disease and other health issues has never been sound. Nina Teicholz looks at how governments started advising incorrectly on diets
Emmys 2014 review: Can they genuinely compete with the Oscars

Can they genuinely compete with the Oscars?

The recent Emmy Awards are certainly glamorous, but they can't beat their movie cousins
On the road to nowhere: A Routemaster trip to remember

On the road to nowhere

A Routemaster trip to remember
Hotel India: Mumbai's Taj Mahal Palace leaves its darker days behind

Hotel India

Mumbai's Taj Mahal Palace leaves its darker days behind
10 best pencil cases

Back to school: 10 best pencil cases

Whether it’s their first day at school, uni or a new project, treat the student in your life to some smart stationery
Arsenal vs Besiktas Champions League qualifier: Gunners know battle with Turks is a season-defining fixture

Arsenal know battle with Besiktas is a season-defining fixture

Arsene Wenger admits his below-strength side will have to improve on last week’s show to pass tough test
Pete Jenson: Athletic Bilbao’s locals-only transfer policy shows success does not need to be bought

Pete Jenson: A Different League

Athletic Bilbao’s locals-only transfer policy shows success does not need to be bought
This guitar riff has been voted greatest of all time

The Greatest Guitar Riff of all time

Whole Lotta Votes from Radio 2 listeners
Britain’s superstar ballerina

Britain’s superstar ballerina

Alicia Markova danced... every night of the week and twice on Saturdays
Berlin's Furrie invasion

Berlin's Furrie invasion

2000 fans attended Eurofeurence
‘It was a tidal wave of terror’

‘It was a tidal wave of terror’

Driven to the edge by postpartum psychosis