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Since 1st March, 1999
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Bollywood bait for child abuse

London, Aug. 10: A 33-year-old father of two was in court today accused of assaulting a 14-year-old girl whom he “met” via an Internet Bollywood chatroom.

The British authorities have generally moved to protect young girls from the unwelcome attention of paedophiles who might lay traps for unwary minors on Internet chatrooms but no one has so far thought of supervising the field of Bollywood.

Appearing in court today was Ashfaq Altaf, a married solicitor from Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, who denies “unlawful sex with a girl under 16 and indecent assault” in November 2002.

It is being alleged that he rang the girl after obtaining her mobile telephone number via a Bollywood chatroom.

Geoffrey Birch, counsel for the prosecution, said that a week later, the man and girl met but instead of taking her to a cinema as he had apparently promised, he drove her to a hotel in Harrow, north-west London.

Birch told the court: “They met in an Internet chatroom, an Asian chatroom named Bollywood. He rang her on several occasions during the course of the week. The conversations, it would seem, had some sort of sexual orientation.”

After he picked her up in his car, the girl said Altaf gave her a bottle of perfume and told her he worked as a lawyer in Oxford Street. What happened later that evening at the Travel Inn later was a matter of dispute, admitted Birch.

The girl said they hugged and kissed. While she went to sleep in the bed, Altaf slept on the sofa.

“She claims that at about 4 am, she was awakened by the defendant,” Birch said. The prosecution counsel added that Altaf had sexual intercourse with her.

“He told her everything would be all right. She claims that the defendant knew her true age at the time, that he knew she was 14. She also claims that he had told her he was 26.”

When the girl, who cannot be named for legal reasons, returned home, she found her mother had reported her missing and called police.

The hearing continues.

Today’s young British Asians identify with Bollywood as both an expression of their own culture and something that is “cool” and fashionable.

Television, especially Channel 4, has helped to fan the craze for Bollywood by screening a number of Hindi movies as well as interviews with stars.

As part of Channel 4’s current Bollywood season, for example, the network screened Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Devdas last weekend. The film is so long in British terms that half the film was shown on Saturday afternoon, and the interval stretched to the same time on Sunday.

Channel 4 described the movie as a “gloriously excessive Bollywood epic starring Shah Rukh Khan and former Miss World Aishwarya Rai. Set in the 30s and sumptuously shot, it follows a lovelorn suitor’s slide into alcoholism and despair”.

Bollywood fans are getting a big dose of Shah Rukh, thanks to filmmaker Nasreen Munni Kabir, who has chosen the films. Devdas was introduced by Bhansali.

In the early hours of Sunday (1.10), when Indians were expected to be awake, Channel 4 screened Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham, described as a “glossy emotional drama focusing on the tensions within a divided family, featuring stars from across the acting generations of Indian cinema”.

Karan Johar introduced and discussed the film.

On Monday evening, choreographer Farah Khan appeared on Sing with Bollywood, and discussed the film Shakti, starring Shah Rukh Khan and Aishwarya Rai in an item number.

On Monday, at 12.30 am, when Indians who had not gone to bed from the night before were still expected to be awake, Channel 4 broadcast Chalte Chalte.

“Opposites attract when a prim and proper fashion designer runs into an impulsive, bubbly suitor in this modern romantic comedy,” said the billing. To ensure Shah Rukh did not feel left out, Kabir got him to introduce Chalte Chalte.

To make really sure he was not offended by under-exposure, The Inner World Of Shah Rukh Khan, an “intimate one hour portrait of Shah Rukh Khan”, went out on Tuesday at 12.05 am.

Things have now come to such a pass that even perfectly normal English girls are queuing to study the deeper meaning of Bollywood at college. And the under-16s log on to Bollywood chatrooms on the Internet.

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