The police arrested a gang that was allegedly planning to target the filmmaker and his family members on instructions from gangster Ravi Pujari, who hoped to establish himself as a don in the film industry
Announcing the arrest of a gang, the Mumbai Crime Branch claimed to have saved the lives of a noted Bollywood filmmaker Mahesh Bhatt and his family members, during a press conference yesterday.
Cops said they had arrested the goons after they were tipped off that the gang would attack Mahesh Bhatt or his family on the instructions of gangster Ravi Pujari. Cracking another extortion and shooting case, the police also revealed that the same gang was behind the firing at the house of film producer Karim Morani in August.
On November 15, ACP Sunil Deshmukh and Police Inspector Jagdish Sahil of the Motor Vehicle Theft department picked up seven of the accused from Madhu Park, Khar, after they received a tip-off that the group was about to kill either Mahesh Bhatt, Mukesh Bhatt or Mahesh’s son Rahul Bhatt.
“Our police officers had information that the seven were carrying weapons and were about to kill a famous Bollywood personality to establish themselves in the industry so they could extort money later,” said Sadanand Date, Joint Commissioner of Police, Mumbai Crime Branch.
The police said that the seven were working for gangster Ravi Pujari, who has been trying to make his mark in the underworld. According to the cops, Pujari wanted to kill Bhatt and fulfil two agendas at once – position himself as a Hindu Don, and establish himself as a genuine threat in the film industry and then extort money from film personalities.
Sources said one of the gang members even went for an interview for a watchman’s job in the building that houses Bhatt’s office in Khar. “They saw that there were always policemen around the producer, however, making their work difficult. So they thought of getting a job in the same building, but that did not happen, they decided to go ahead with the job.
They were told to kill with a clean shot,” said Dhananjay Kulkarni, Deputy Commissioner of Police, Crime Branch. The police have arrested ten people Ishrat Shaikh, Mohd Haknat Khan, Adim Khan, Ashfaque Sayyed, Asif Khan, Shahnwaaz Shaikh, Firoz Kadar, Shabbir Shaikh, Fahim Khan and Mohammad Anis Merchant.
The cops have also recovered four pistols from the accused and Rs 11 lakh that they were paid for the job through hawala routes. Around 13 people, mostly residents of Mumbra and Kausa are suspected.
Officers said some of them have criminal records, though most are new recruits, including an engineering student who had told Pujari that he could only fire in the air during the Morani shooting, which is why he and other members were replaced while planning the Bhatt shootout. Despite repeated attempts to contact producer-director Mahesh Bhatt, he was not available for comment.
It may be recalled that in August two shooters, believed to be Ravi Pujari’s men, had entered the Juhu residence of producer Karim Morani and fired five rounds.
No one was hurt in the incident. It was later revealed that Morani’s brother had ignored extortion calls received from Pujari. Angered by this, the gangster allegedly sent the goons to ensure he was taken seriously. “During investigations we learnt that the same gang had carried out a shootout at the house of producer Karim Morani.
They wanted the rights for ‘Happy New Year’, a film starring Shah Rukh Khan, and were trying to get it through Morani, who is Khan’s friend. When their attempts failed, they thought of teaching Morani a lesson,” said a Crime Branch official.