The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Zinta dares to bare extortion call

Mumbai, Jan. 9: Actress Preity Zinta today broke the Bollywood bigwigs’ ranks and admitted to having received a threat call from a “bhai” two years ago.

Every other Bollywood big shot who has taken the witness box in the Bharat Shah case, be it Salman Khan, Shah Rukh Khan, Rakesh Roshan, Sanjay Gupta, Mahesh Manjrekar or Harish Sugandh, has gone against almost every claim made by the prosecution.

The first Bollywood star not to be labelled “hostile” by the special court which is hearing a case on the Bollywood-underworld nexus, Zinta told judge A.P. Bhangale that she had got an extortion call asking her to cough up Rs 50 lakh or face the consequences.

“Yes, I did get a call on my cellphone while I was shooting for Chori Chori Chupke Chupke,” the actress said. “The caller asked me to pay Rs 50 lakh or suffer the consequences. ‘Main bhai ka admi hoon,’ he said.”

But Zinta’s confession, one that may give a new turn to the exasperating case, was still not good enough for the prosecution, which asked the court to declare her hostile. The judge, however, overruled the prosecution.

Following Salman — who not only turned hostile but even accused police of doctoring his statement — as a witness, his pretty co-star in Chori Chori showed courage in admitting to receiving an extortion call. But then she decided to play it safe.

Zinta, clad in a simple salwar kameez with sunglasses tucked above her forehead, denied having spoken to actor Sunjay Dutt about the call or discussing it with anyone apart from her secretary, Pankaj Kharbanda.

The police say they have recorded a conversation between Dutt and mafia don Chhota Shakeel, in which the actor asks why Zinta is being harassed. The voice, which the police claim to be Shakeel’s, answers dismissively that he would never trouble a “friend or a beloved”.

It adds that Zinta is the heroine of “his” film and he paid her a whopping Rs 50 lakh, more than she had ever got to act in a movie, to be a part of the cast.

The actress told the court that Dutt might have come to know about the call from Kharbanda, their common secretary. “It is quite possible that he (Kharbanda) may have told Dutt about it. In any case, entire Bollywood came to know about the threat,” she said.

Zinta also denied making a statement to the police that she told her close friend Dutt about the dreaded call. She, like Salman, the hero of Chori Chori, maintained in court that she had not been coerced into acting in the film and that she agreed to star in it only after she was promised a fee of Rs 50 lakh.

The prosecution claims that the film was produced by Nasim Rizvi and financed by Shah — both are the main accused in the Bollywood-underworld nexus case — at Shakeel’s behest. The film has already been attached by the court and its proceeds have been deposited in the government treasury.

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