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In the shadow of the don

Mumbai, Nov. 11: If she had not befriended Abu Salem, Monica Bedi would perhaps have retired from public life as the pride of Chabewal.

It is to this obscure village in Hoshiarpur, Punjab, that the actor-turned-gangster’s moll traces her roots, though her parents settled in Norway two decades ago. She even went back to Chabewal in 1998 to attend a wedding in the family and was thought to be pretty, sweet and gentle by her army of uncles and aunts.

But Monica, the owner of three passports, who was taken today to Hyderabad, the scene of one alleged forged passport, and will be taken shortly to Bhopal, the scene of another, was meant for bigger things.

Born in 1975, she arrived in Delhi in the early ’90s and worked as a small-time model. She moved to Mumbai in 1993 and started her film career, which would boast a string of unmemorable roles in mostly forgettable films over the next seven years, including producer Mukesh Duggal’s Khilona in 1996.

It was Duggal, reportedly close to gangsters Chhota Rajan and Salem, who is said to have introduced the young, eager, talentless but ambitious actress to her paramour.

Monica, who was thought to have it in her to make a good B-grade heroine, is rumoured to have used her connection with Salem ' the king of extortion in Bollywood and wanted for the 1993 Bombay blasts and the murder of music baron Gulshan Kumar ' to bag “plum roles”. Or at least roles in plum projects.

How Monica got a part in Jodi No. 1 (2001), a big David Dhawan film starring Sanjay Dutt and Govinda, is part of Bollywood lore. Salem forced the producers to cast her, replacing the original choice of a much more popular heroine, says an industry person.

When Salem fled the country and landed in Portugal, Monica joined him. They met clandestinely at places fixed by the gangster. But according to a report, the equation between them may have changed now and Monica was helping the police trace Salem by agreeing to meet him.

Her first passport, issued in Mumbai, is said to have correct information. The second, issued in Bhopal, gives her name as Fauzia Usman and says she is married. The third, issued in Hyderabad, identifies her as Sana Malik Kamal. One of Salem’s passports, issued in Dubai, gives his wife’s name as Fauzia Usman.

But Monica’s statements from behind the bars in Portugal, where she had been for the past three years, appear to be attempts to distance herself from Salem. Recently, pushing for asylum in the country, she told the newspaper Expresso that Salem, who called himself Ansalan Ali when she met him, forced her to use a fake passport because he said he was on the run from the Indian mafia.

“I regret meeting him. The only hope I have is my asylum request and I implore the authorities to take into account that I am a person, I am not Abu Salem’s shadow,” she told the newspaper.

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