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Honey, it’s money

The girl from Chandigarh had a pretty face and the right statistics. So she packed her bags for Mumbai, hoping that she’d make a mark there. Like other wannabe actresses, she struggled for a role. But soon, she had moved into a new league. It seemed that Simran Sood had finally arrived.

“She wore designer garments and never repeated them. She kept changing cars. And guess what, they were an Audi, Mercedes or a BMW,” says Indo-Brazilian Carlyta Mouhini, now in India to establish herself as a singer. “It seemed strange that a girl living in a 1BHK flat owned such assets.”

The police are looking into that now. Two murders in Mumbai in recent weeks have put the spotlight on her. She is one of those accused in the killing of Delhi-based businessman Arun Kumar Tikku, whose son Anuj wanted to act. Sood is also accused of kidnapping and murdering aspiring television producer Karan Kakkar.

Sood’s involvement in the murders — if any — is still to be proved. What is known is that the lure of glamour in cinema and television is drawing wannabe film artistes into crime. Sometimes, they are the criminals. Often, as the murder of Meenakshi Thapa — another smalltime would-be television actress — highlights, they are the victims.

“Every day around 20,000 people come to Mumbai with the hope of making it big,” says filmmaker Vivek Agnihotri. “To make an impact on the frontrunners of the industry, one would have to spend Rs 50,000-1,00,000 every month to lead an A-class life. After the first few months, they run short of money and from there begins the struggle to survive, as now they can’t go back.”

Karan Kakkar couldn’t go back either. He ran a successful event management company in New Delhi but had given it up for a career as a producer in Mumbai.

“Karan wanted to match the lifestyle of the people he was interacting with. We spent quite a lot on him — getting him a rented apartment at Oberoi Spring and also helping him buy a second-hand BMW,” says his brother, Hanish Kakkar. And Karan ended up giving the impression that he came from an affluent family.

Thapa’s story is somewhat similar. She was allegedly murdered by two junior artistes who kidnapped her for ransom, thinking that her family was well off. When they realised that she wasn’t rich, they killed her.

In Kakkar and Tikku’s case, it seems that the murderers were eyeing Kakkar’s BMW and Tikku’s flat in Mumbai. Sood, who befriended Kakkar, is believed to have introduced Vijay Palande, the prime accused in the two murder cases, to Anuj Tikku.

Of course, industrywallahs also point out that it’s not just the world of cinema and TV that’s beset by crime. “Any normal person in a fit of anger can end up committing some serious crime,” stresses Anup Soni, the anchor of Sony’s Crime Patrol show.

Yet it cannot be denied that several high-profile murder cases have been linked to cinema or television. Four years ago, television creative director Neeraj Grover was killed. The accused — naval officer Emile Jerome and his girlfriend, actress Maria Susairaj — were convicted but absolved of the murder charge last summer.

Crime, in many cases, is an offshoot of aspiration and frustration. On the one hand are thousands of wannabe actors, going from producer to producer in search of a foothold in cinema or television. On the other hand, scores of people are waiting in the wings just to make money out of the aspirants’ vulnerability.

There is a lot at stake, because the lure of the screen — big or small — is so strong that would-be artistes often gamble all that they have to realise a dream.

“Some of the aspirants invest a lot in a bid to maintain a high-end lifestyle. But when they fail to get work they get sucked into the world of sex, drugs, sleaze and crime,” says Dr Yusuf A. Matcheswalla, a Mumbai-based psychologist.

The psychologist has come across wannabe actors who attend cocaine parties to begin with and then become addicts. They then get into crime to feed their addiction, he says.

Sitting in a plush hotel in Mumbai, aspiring actor Konkana Bakshe says despite her experience as a model, the going hasn’t been easy for her. Yet the Calcutta girl has spared no expense; she attended Hindi diction classes, enrolled in Barry John’s acting school and doled out thousands of rupees to her publicists and co-ordinators. “But when my first few projects didn’t click, I am back looking for work,” says Bakshe.

Jeetu Samrat and his wife Neelam too have come to Mumbai from New Delhi in search of roles. “We’ve done theatre and wanted to make it big in Mumbai. So we packed our bags with enough cash to last us six months,” says Samrat, sitting in a city food court.

And what happens when he runs out of cash? “I don’t know,” he says.

Palak Shukla, another wannabe actress, who has appeared in some ads and a film called Baba and the Babes, is waiting for the right roles too. “I have a monthly expenditure of around Rs 40,000. And I earn it by doing ads, theatre and by writing,” she says. “When I run short of money my family supports me.”

For some would-be artistes, money is always an issue. “Designer clothes, stylish accessories and an entry to big parties mean spending a lot of money. Where will a youngster trying to make a mark get so much cash? This often makes them take a shorter route,” says singer Mouhini.

The “shorter route”, for many, means acting as hostesses or escorts. “Most of these wannabes come to Mumbai, thinking that they will become a big star some day. But when the road to success seems difficult, many find other ways of making a quick buck,” says fashion choreographer Rehan Shah.

Television scriptwriter Bandana Tewari points out that the hunger to reach the top rung leads to compromises. “The desire to earn a lot and become famous makes them commit crimes or become victims of crime.”

The TV industry, she adds, is a lucrative one. “But it’s in its nascent stage. And since there are no rules and regulations to control it, it attracts a lot of people. We have no method of filtering people who join the industry. Anyone with enough money can be a producer or a financier. There is ample scope for anti-socials to get into the entertainment world or plant moles such as Simran Sood to trap the rich,” she says.

The assistant police inspector of Amboli police station, Irfan Sheikh, stresses that around 10 cases of petty crimes concerning wannabes in the glamour world are noted every year. “Petty crimes committed by small-time actors are quite common. However, it’s only murder that makes people sit up,” he adds.

Indeed, few knew of Simran Sood till some weeks ago. Now she gathers more eyeballs than some of the top actresses. But the question being asked is, is she a criminal — or is she also a victim?

“At the end of the day, it’s all about survival,” says filmmaker Agnihotri.