Long line of fatal attractions - Marilyn to Monica, don-showgirl relationships flourish

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  • Published 13.11.05

Mumbai, Nov. 13: Abu Salem and Monica Bedi may be its latest act, but the don-and-the-sex-bomb drama has a long history.

On the face of it, in the beauty-and-the-beast romance, the beauty is meant to supply the light into the dark, lonely, squalid life of the man from the dark. But, in most instances, the sex goddess who becomes the mafia lord’s mistress serves a greater purpose.

“They are there to get them power or launder money, mostly. Or get the don into limelight, one of the underworld’s persisting fantasies,” says film writer and critic Amrit Gangar.

“Showgirls are the most vulnerable. Who else does the mafia go for?”

It started with a bang with the original bombshell. The mess that was Marilyn Monroe’s life was made murkier by the presence of mobster Sam Giancana, the dreaded Chicago Syndicate leader and enemy of the Kennedys.

Marilyn’s liaison with Giancana, who was said to be the business partner of Frank Sinatra, also one of Marilyn’s men, started through Sinatra, and the mafia lord apparently kicked off by having forced sex with her.

Later, there were rumours more grim. Giancana’s brother Chuck claimed that in 1962, Marilyn was killed by their men after a dispute with Robert F. Kennedy so that the attorney-general would get blamed for her death. Marilyn had made repeated calls to Robert before she was found dead.

Another of the American star gangsters, Bugsy Siegel (the film Bugsy featuring Warren Beatty is a lame version of the life of the ruthless Bugsy who was incapable of remorse), had an enormous appetite for showgirls. Siegel, a challenge to the Chicago Syndicate, had several mistresses simultaneously, including Ketti Gallian and Wendy Barrie, from the movies.

His favourite mistress, Virginia Hill (played by Annette Bening in the cinema), was a celebrity blackmailer in Hollywood. At the Flamingo, a casino named after Virginia’s nickname, Siegel had installed four of his girlfriends ? Virginia, the two actors and a countess ? in separate rooms.

But Virginia was also a money courier for the mafia (that was Monica Bedi’s job, too, before she met Salem) and a spy for the Chicago bosses. She had a hand in Bugsy’s gruesome death ? he was shot by the Chicago men and one of his eyes was found 15 feet away from his body in Hill’s dining room.

Back home, when the mafia became the masters of Bollywood from the seventies with the advent of Haji Mastan, the same links developed. Mastan, the first Indian celebrity gangster, had a well-documented passion for Bollywood, hobnobbing with the likes of Dilip Kumar. He found his mistress ? and later, wife ? in sexy B-grade actress Sona. She lives in Mumbai now.

Following Mastan, Dawood Ibrahim came up and made flying to West Asia the second profession of starlets ? and many stars. His close links with Bollywood grabbed headlines again when Mandakini, who was apparently foisted on Raj Kapoor as the heroine of the film Ram Teri Ganga Maili, started to live with Dawood. But she was packed back to India after a few years.

“The gangsters obviously fall for the glamour. But mostly they are temporary relationships. It was not clear whether Mandakini was married to Dawood or to his brother Anees Ibrahim. It was not clear if there was a marriage,” said an industry person.

Another actor, Nagma’s name came up as the D-gang’s moll in the cricket match-fixing controversy. Mandakini and Nagma are two of the most-heard names.

Monica was apparently the mistress of producer Mukesh Duggal, one of Salem’s frontmen in the industry. It is rumoured that her job was to carry the money to the mafia from Duggal, who would have extorted it in Salem’s name from the film world. It was on one such trip to West Asia in 1997 that she met Salem at a stage show.

Duggal was not a nice man, with a reputation for torturing his mistress. A pretty, broken-down Monica poured her heart out to Salem and the don took a fancy to her.

“It is the typical story. The underworld becomes an entry point for many girls with movie ambitions. They go to West Asia through this route to earn money with stage shows or by sleeping around,” says trade analyst Vinod Mirani.

“Very few are long-term relationships, really. What did Monica have here to come back to?” he asks.

Although in reverse motion, Hollywood ? followed by Bollywood ? takes up these stories and processes them. So in Deewar, Amitabh Bachchan’s character, loosely modelled on Haji Mastan, gets Parveen Babi as his girlfriend.

In Company, Ajay Devgan’s character, loosely based on Dawood’s, gets Manisha Koirala as his mistress. She was certainly more posh and had more salon-perfect hair than Mandakini in real life.

And there’s no happy ending in sight. Marilyn died as messily as she lived amid the rumours of mafia and other involvements. Bugsy’s mistress Virginia Hill was found dead of mercury poisoning. Mastan’s wife lives on property that she has to fight to keep for herself from other relatives. Mandakini lives in Bangalore with her son, in oblivion.

Monica is languishing in a jail for reportedly having two forged passports, which claim she is Salem’s wife. No one’s sure if they are man and wife in the eyes of the law.

On Friday, the judge allowed Salem to speak to Monica. But there are reasons to believe the relationship is as good as dead. The past three years they have been under arrest, and separate, in Portugal.

Monica was quoted in a newspaper report as saying that she regretted having met Salem.

She might have said that to distance herself from Salem, but regret or prison or worse ? death ? is usually the end of the gangster-and-the-showgirl story. A fantasy gone horribly wrong.