Unlike their counterparts in other states, movie stars in Kerala never felt insecure among fans to hire an army of bodyguards. Actors could go out and about without being mobbed.
Yet brawny men made their way into the shooting locations as bodyguards and bouncers and the gates were thrown open to thugs who offered their muscle power to anyone who cared.
The nexus paid too costly for the actors and technicians who employed them to execute their nefarious plans. The criminals knew how to script the industry’s course.
Scene No. 1 - Honeytrap
One of the earliest entry points of criminals into the showbiz in Kerala was seen in the 1990s, when an actor paid the price for a carnal misadventure. The episode started in a Gulf country, where a troupe of entertainers had gone for a stage show.
The actor was enamored by a girl and his aides made sure that he got what he wanted - with a bit of push from a criminal gang. Back in Kerala, the euphoria gave way to panic when the actor received a phone call from arguably the first female goon in the state.
She warned the actor that his “victim” was on the verge of suicide. She also told him that his act had been videotaped. The blackmail worked. The Gulf trip cost the actor a few lakh rupees.
The incident was a portend. Stars could find enough people to get them anything they want but it was impossible to know who mingled with them. Many of the actors played along. They relied on muscle power to have their way in the industry.
Blackmailing has grown to be a sub sector within the cinema industry but most of the victims keep it to themselves for fear of humiliation.
Scene No. 2 - Bouncer act
Remember the scene from Mohanlal-starrer ‘Chota Mumbai’, where Shakeela is guarded by a ring of bouncers? This is a real-life scene for the residents of Fort Kochi and Mattancherry.
Movie production managers hire bouncers to ward off excited fans and trouble makers. The only qualification for the job is a beefed-up body. Oh yes, a bit of reputation on the wrong side is a must.
The reliance on thugs is prevalent in Alappuzha too. They can ensure smooth shooting even on a hartal day.
The smartest among the musclemen quickly establish connections within the industry and make them indispensable for the rich and famous. They become the favorites of actors who want to show rivals their place or to expand shady businesses.
One of those bodyguards in Ernakulam is on the radar of the police. A leading actor hired him even though he has been accused in a handful of cases.
The preponderance of bouncers was evident at a recent meeting of actors in a hotel. The venue was out of bounds for any crazed fan yet there were as many bodyguards as the actors who went to the hotel.
Hiring a bodyguard is an actor’s prerogative. However, most of the bodyguards act as a link between their employers and the waiting tentacles of the underworld.
Scene No. 3 - Unhealthy partners
If you want to spot a star, there are three sure-shot destinations to frequent - health clubs, beauty parlors and boutiques. Actors want to stay shipshape and fashionable because that is part of their job.
Predictably, these places are frequented by starlets as well as criminals who want to establish connection with potential employers.
Main accused in the case Sunil Kumar, aka Pulsar Suni, knew the route too well. Before he drove his criminal career against a wall with the dastardly attack on an actress, he was a constant presence in the celebrity circles.
He kept his contacts alive by being in constant touch with a boutique owner in Kochi. The woman who owns the boutique has told the police that she had borrowed heavily from Suni.
The man with a history of kidnapping actresses found it useful to be close to a boutique frequented by potential victims.
The numerous health clubs in Kochi provide another meeting point for criminals and celebrities. Many of the actors pick their bodyguards from these fitness centers. Even straightforward actors fall for musclemen with dubious track records.
One of them is a goon from Paravoor who has nicknamed himself after legendary boxer Mike Tyson. His rise from a street fighter to a celebrity bouncer was phenomenal. He even played the part of a bouncer in a gangsta movie.
His role in the city’s underbelly came to fore when gangster Imtiyaz fell to a rival gang. ‘Tyson’ was among those who turned up to receive the body of their leader. The actor eventually got wind of his bodyguard’s activities and dropped him off the payroll.
Scene No. 4 - On the fast lane
Some of the drivers attached with film production units are hardcore criminals like Suni. All they need is to get someone to recommend them for the job. They soon advertise themselves as the go-to persons for anything from hired guns to drug peddlers.
Suni was a driver for a producer in Kochi. He made a name for himself as a loyal aide, until he grew ambitious and showed his true colors.
Suni had an assignment to pick actress Menaka from Ernakulam Junction (South) railway station. He had other ideas though.
Menaka was suspicious when a van arrived at the station to pick her. She called up her husband Suresh Kumar before boarding the van. The van was driven by Suni’s accomplice. He drove on the opposite direction of the hotel where the actress was supposed to be taken. Menaka protested and called up her husband again but the driver just drove towards the bypass.
Suresh Kumar called up the producer, who rushed to locate the mysterious van. The driver of the van spotted the producer, realized that the plan had gone awry and drove the van to a nearby hotel, where the actress was dropped off. She had just escaped a kidnapping attempt.
The producer later learned that his driver was the brain behind the mischief and the actual target was a younger actress.
The same gang had attacked and blackmailed another actress before that. They also tried to kidnap two other actresses. Had the police pursued those cases, Suni and company wouldn’t have been able to target their latest prey.
Scene No. 5 - Birds of the same feather
Criminals have an uncanny talent to get them entrenched in the movie industry. Some of them even share the limelight.
One of them played a minor but funny role in a recent hit movie. Few of the audience knew that the young rider intercepted by the police had already been taken into custody even before the movie’s release.
Ajith Kandangakkulam aka ‘Thavala’ Ajith had snatched chains from 56 women when he was nabbed by the police. About 100 sovereigns of gold was seized by the police from the six-man gang.
One of his accomplices would also go on to hit the headlines. Vishnu was Suni’s messenger after he was released from the Kakkanad sub jail.
Ajith, Vishnu and friends led a life of luxury with the loot. They went pub-hopping in Mumbai and Goa. There was a time when they shelled out Rs 10 lakh in Goa. They also spent on expensive bikes. With all the shady activities, Ajith had the gall to act in a movie.
(To be continued...)
(Reported by Unni K Warrier, Renji Kuriakose, R Krishna Raj and Joji Simon; Compiled by Tony Jose)