Why Bollywood glorifies criminals and outlaws?

In Bollywood, gangster movies spend less time telling the audience about crime and more time extolling the so-called virtues of crimelords and the underworld. Be it Satya, Company, Vaastav, Once Upon a Time in Mumbaai, Agneepath or even Gangubai Kathiawadi, outlaws in such films are shown as good samaritans with hearts of gold.

Such characters almost seem like an ode or tribute to the original gangster. Ever wondered why? 

It is an open secret that the drug cartels owned by the D-company have financed many Bollywood films for several years. Reports have also suggested that many Bollywood stars and strugglers are high-paying clients for this cartel.

Bollywood and drugs

In 2021, a report quoted a senior officer from the Anti-Narcotics Cell of Mumbai Police saying, “The D-company helmed by underworld Don Dawood Ibrahim suspected to be based in Pakistan, runs this lucrative business. The D-Company buys raw drugs — opium, poppy and coca — from Afghanistan and Cambodia. After processing them into heroin, brown sugar, charas and cocaine, these drugs are smuggled into India via the Punjab border and Gujarat ports and land here in Mumbai.” 

After the drug consignment reaches Mumbai, it is handed over to different dealers. While ganja and charas are used primarily by college students, refined drugs like heroin and cocaine are sold at a very high price, therefore accessible to Bollywood film stars and strugglers.

This drug menace especially came to the limelight following the tragic death of actor Sushant Singh Rajput at his residence in June 2020. Actress Rhea Chakraborty, who had been dating him then, was accused of being “active in a drug syndicate connected with drug supplies”, according to a copy of her bail order

Underworld and Bollywood

This nexus began decades ago, around the 80s, when the national coverage of state-backed television challenged Bollywood’s hegemony over mass entertainment. Filmmakers found lesser demand for their products. There was lesser demand for Hindi movies.

However, actors weren’t complaining about this rise of television, for it increased their popularity and, therefore, their fees. Some even hiked their price by 500%. Suddenly, hiring these actors became unbearably expensive for desperate production companies.

Although the cost of producing a film rose exorbitantly, producers needed help to finance their films. A double whammy hit them since these production companies couldn’t borrow from banks or apply for insurance because the government didn’t identify cinema as an industry. 

It wasn’t until 2001 the Indian film industry was accorded ‘Industry’ status by the government, and institutional financing came into the system.

Therefore, till then, producers had no option but to accept funds from fraudulent sources who wanted to convert their black money to white. The Mumbai underworld, already smitten by the Bollywood glitz, quickly took this option and started investing in films. Eventually, they also picked up distribution rights. 


Bollywood soon came under the control of these outlaws (with links to Pakistan’s deep state), who would go to any lengths to make a film as they wished. It isn’t difficult to find old photos of notorious underworld kingpins with superstars of yesteryears. 

Haji Mastan was perhaps the first to forage into Bollywood financing. He produced movies of his alleged lover and small-time actress Sona to support her career. He enjoyed being called a “celebrity gangster” and was friends with Dilip Kumar, Raj Kapoor, Dharmendra, Firoze Khan, and Sanjeev Kumar. 

It is said that Chota Shakeel’s man Rizvi went to film sets several times with a briefcase full of cash, asking to meet the director and demanding that he should make a film for them. Actors, too, were “coerced” in the same way. 

Many Bollywood actresses also had relationships with these crime kingpins. Very few would remember director Javed Siddiqui, who was shot dead in 1995 by goons of Dawood Ibrahim, India’s most wanted man, for refusing to hire his alleged girlfriend, Anita Ayub, in his film. 

As per the report by a Pakistani fashion magazine Fashion Central, Anita was also involved in the Mumbai bomb blasts masterminded by Dawood.

In his autobiography, late actor Rishi Kapoor shared how he was taken to a private undisclosed location where he sat with Dawood and had tea with him. 

“Finally, Dawood said, ‘I am a fugitive because I will not get justice in India. There are a lot of people there who are against me. There are also many in India I have bought. I pay several politicians who are in my pocket.’ I told him, ‘Dawood, please leave me out of all this, yaar. I am an actor and don’t wish to get involved.’ He understood. He was always extremely nice and showed me a lot of warmth.”

It didn’t take some filmmakers long to realise they could use this mafia obsession with Bollywood by making films showing the criminal in a more forgiving light. These films would argue that he was not the nasty criminal as the press reported but a good-hearted guy targeted by a corrupt system.

Soon there was a barrage of such gangster movies in the 90s.

 Gangster Films

In 1998, Ram Gopal Verma made Satya, a story of how a man seeking employment in Mumbai gets involved with the underworld due to an odd twist of fate. The criminal dies by the film’s end, but the audience is expected to sympathise with him.

Mahesh Manjrekar made Vaastav (1999) based on the life of Chota Rajan. Again, it portrays the protagonist as an innocent man forced into a life of crime because of poverty and a capitalist system. Although he kills many men, he is shown in a sympathetic light.

Both these films were box office hits, and other filmmakers soon started tapping into the potential of this genre. The companyShootout at Lokhandwala, Shootout at Wadala, Once Upon a Time in Mumbai, and D-Day are other examples in the genre.

It isn’t as if they were the first to project a crimelord in a sympathetic light. Many would remember Sher Khan from Zanjeer (1973). The loyal and sentimental Pathaan, with a rough and ferocious exterior, was supposed to be inspired by Mumbai’s infamous mafia don Karim Lala, who operated several liquor dens, gambling and extortion rackets from the ’60s to early ’80s.


There is one thing to making a film on mafia gangs and depicting the lawlessness of the times. It is a whole other thing to use this genre to offer rich tributes to ganglords, criminals and terrorists. A healthy society can do well without films that message there is more virtue in being a mafia don than an officer of the law.

Our society needs cinema that entertains, educates and explores critical social issues. Bollywood, which acts like a mouthpiece for underworld crimelords, doesn’t fit the bill.

+ posts

I watch how Bollywood engages with and represents Hindu society. A non-Marxist film critic writing in English.

We Need Your Support

Your Aahuti is what sustains this Yajna. With your Aahuti, the Yajna grows. Without your Aahuti, the Yajna extinguishes.
We are a small team that is totally dependent on you.
To support, consider making a voluntary subscription.

UPI ID - gemsofbollywood@upi / gemsofbollywood@icici

Related Posts



Share This

Share This

Share this post with your friends!