Mogul: Will Bollywood's tendency to whitewash reality get in the way of a valuable story?

Gautam Chintamani

Sep 09, 2018 15:20:11 IST

The upcoming Gulshan Kumar biopic Mogul has been in the news a lot of late. Earlier, it was spoken about as one of Akshay Kumar’s hot new projects. Even after Kumar walked out of the film on account of differences over the script, it got a new co-producer in Aamir Khan which, needless to say, was good enough to keep the buzz going. Then there was some talk about Khan trying to get Ranbir Kapoor to play the late music baron who was assassinated in cold blood in 1997 on the streets of Bombay. Post Sanju, Mogul would probably be the second big ‘insider’ biopic to emerge from within the Hindi film industry and like Sanju, this one also has multiple layers that warrant a film. Just how much ‘reality’ would eventually make it to the screen is anyone’s guess.

 Mogul: Will Bollywoods tendency to whitewash reality get in the way of a valuable story?

Gulshan Kumar; official logo of Mogul

In an industry today where terms such as ‘outsider’ have become commonplace, Gulshan Kumar was indeed a true outlander to make it to the other side. There have been actors who rose from nowhere and went on to change the game. Some filmmakers and technicians did the same with great elan, such as the late Ashok Mehta, legendary cinematographer who graduated from being a canteen boy to an icon in his own lifetime. Before the arrival of Gulshan Kumar, there was hardly anyone who had left such an impact on the playfield and had it not been for him, Hindi film music wouldn’t have reached its zenith. It’s not like before Kumar there weren’t stalwarts who made film music an indispensable element of the entire production but Kumar was the first one who could sell a film just on the name of singers. In fact, Kumar created such an industry of singers that all his cassettes not only prominently featured photos of singers like Anuradha Paudwal and Kumar Sanu, the two that Kumar single-handedly transformed into megastars, but also proudly stated "all songs sung by" a particular singer.

What makes Mogul a fantastic prospect as a film and something truly worthy of a storyteller to delve in and an actor to bite his teeth into is Gulshan Kumar and the company that he founded, T-Series, which has all the makings of an underdog story. Intriguingly enough, like all great tales, this is not bereft of shades of greys and even complete blacks. Kumar’s ascent has undertones that some could describe as ‘entrepreneurial ability’ gone awry or plain criminal depending on where it is viewed from. Hailing from a family that migrated from West Punjab to Delhi in 1947, Kumar’s father and relatives started off by selling fruit on the roads and a few years later began a juice shop. In the early 1970s, Gulshan Kumar joined his father Chandrabhan’s enterprise of selling pre-recorded music and came into his own by the end of the decade where the advent of the ‘two-in-one’ (radio and cassette players) led to a surge in the demand for music.

What Kumar did was to understand the great demand for the humble audio cassette and unlike the Gramophone Company of India (GCI) or Polydor, the two major music companies of the period, that were happy to produce cassettes in smaller quantity, he went for the numbers. He set up a small scale industry and began to flood the market with a cheaper alternative. Unlike ‘regular’ companies, bootleggers only had to shell out the cost of the cassette, which at the time was Rs 7 per unit, and add the cost of duplication and forget about excise duty or royalties. As a result, T-Series could sell a cassette anywhere between at Rs 18-25 while the HMVs and Polydors would charge Rs 35-45. Moreover, Kumar’s retailers would even replace a cassette free of cost in case of complaints on account of the cost being so low that consumers didn’t care about the legality.

There was a time in the 1980s where you could find any film’s soundtrack irrespective of the company it was originally released under and there would be interesting combinations (remember, Side A and Side B?) that were not possible elsewhere. By mid 1980s, Kumar had become a major player and reportedly stopped piracy and instead got into cover versions. Kumar got little-known singers, one of them Sonu Nigam and used old film songs but recorded with a new arrangement, etc. which were considered legal as long as the rules of the Copyright Act 1958 were not tampered around with. By the 1990s Kumar not only got into consumer electronics but also film production and enjoyed great success with films such as Lal Dupatta Malmal Ka (1989), the sequel Phir Lehraya Lal Dupatta Malmal Ka, Aashiqui and Dil Hai Ki Maanta Nahin. He also got into religious songs and promoted non-film artists such as Pakistan’s Attaullah Khan of ‘Acha Sila Diya Tu Ne Mere Pyar Ka’ fame.

The real trouble for Kumar began in the mid 1990s where despite being an prominent player, his company was caught releasing a cover version of the music of Hum Aapke Hai Kounn…? (1994) before the three-year waiting period as stipulated by the Supreme Court. There were also rumours that T-Series had flooded the market with a cover version of Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge (1995) as well. The original company for both these films, GCI, dragged Kumar to court but there was a bigger trouble: if so much money was being made, the others wanted their share of the pie too. Some financiers wanted their cut and the rest of music industry also got together to reportedly demand Kumar to cough up Rs. 100 million for their losses due to his undercutting.

At that time this was not a huge amount for Kumar, who had also been India’s highest tax payer for a few years but he refused to budge. There were reports of extortion calls as well but Kumar did not take them seriously enough. Rumour mills were also abuzz with someone within the industry ordering a hit on Kumar, who was gunned down by two men on 12 August, 1997. Later, two prominent individuals from the industry, music director Nadeem Saifi (of the ‘Nadeem-Shravan’ duo) and Ramesh Taurani, producer and owner of Tips, were arrested for conspiring to kill Kumar. Taurani was acquitted in 2002 and the Indian government lost the case to extradite Nadeem from the UK in a British court. There is also a belief that Dawood Ibrahim himself is protecting Nadeem.

Chances of a film like Mogul whitewashing the person it's based on are also high, especially after the Sanju debacle. For one, the film is being produced by Bhushan Kumar, the Chairman and MD of Super Cassette Industries and the late Gulshan Kumar’s son, and the chances of him showing his father in any type of unflattering light are quite low. The Hindi film industry also hates to reflect on its own self, and therefore, for someone that is still a major player (read Ramesh Taurani) to be shown in a questionable light is slim.

In the end, what is the point of a film like Mogul then? To put it simply, entertainment, entertainment and entertainment. Even if Mogul were to be made like a Guru or a Raees or told like a straight story about a man from nowhere becoming a major player in a setting that is known to be welcoming towards famous people, it would still be good enough to be labeled great. After all, didn’t Mark Twain teach us to "never let the truth get in the way of a good story?"

Updated Date: Sep 09, 2018 15:20:11 IST

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