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Gunman opens fire in Mahesh Bhatt's Mumbai office

By Syed Firdaus Ashraf in Mumbai
Last updated on: June 14, 2006 15:11 IST
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An unidentified gunman fired two rounds inside director Mahesh Bhatt's office in suburban Juhu in Mumbai on Wednesday afternoon.

The veteran director was not in the office at the time of the incident.

No one was injured in the firing, and the gunman fled the scene on a motorcycle.

"He entered Bhatt's office at noon and inquired about him from the staff. When told that Bhatt was not in office, he fired a round in the air before escaping," Mumbai Police Commissioner A N Roy told PTI. Police said the man had earlier pointed his gun at the office accountant who had stopped him and asked for his name. A search has been launched for the gunman after getting details about his physical attributes from office staff.

Arup Patnaik, additional commissioner of police (crime), Mumbai, told that they have as yet not got any clues about who was behind the incident. "But we have been told that gangster Ravi Pujari is behind this attempt. He is just a small-time gangster from Andheri east area who has been linked to the underworld. He has done this to create an atmosphere of fear in Bollywood."

According to Patnaik, two youths were involved in the incident. "One of them waited outside the office, and the second person entered the office. He was dressed in a T-shirt and a pair of jeans, and had an automatic weapon." He seemed like a professional killer, Patnaik added.

Film-maker Ashok Pandit, a good friend of the Bhatts happened to come to the office soon after the youth had fled, when he fielded a phone call. He told this correspondent the caller identified himself as Ravi Pujari, and through plenty of expletives said 'abhi bachgaya, agli baar nahi chhodega (you have got away now, but you won't be so lucky the next time)'. Pandit said the phone call was heard by inspector Pradeep Shinde of the DN Nagar police station who had turned up by then.

Pujari made a second call to the Bhatts' residence where too he delivered a similar message the domestic servant who answered the phone. Pandit said Mahesh Bhatt was shocked at the incident.

Mumbai crime branch sources said they had no prior intelligence about any threat to Bhatt from the underworld. "It might be an attempt to intimidate Bhatt," they said, adding that they were investigating whether the underworld was associated with the incident.

The director's producer brother, Mukesh Bhatt, told reporters that he has not received any threats from the underworld -- the bane of the Mumbai film industry -- nor has anyone called him after the incident.

Asked whether he would seek police protection, Mukesh Bhatt said, "I will not seek police protection. I am an ordinary person leading a simple life."

Mahesh Bhatt's daughter Pooja, who arrived at the office soon after the incident, told this correspondent that the family has not so far received any extortionary phone calls from the underworld. "We have not heard of this Ravi Pujari either," she said.

She added that they will seek police protection if the police feels it is necessary. The director's wife Soni Razdan too came to the office soon after the incident.

Among the throng of friends and relatives who had turned up at the office was director Anurag Basu (Gangster)

However, Bhatt said he did not suspect the role of the underworld in the shooting. Speaking to a television news channel, the filmmaker said he had never received threats from the underworld in the past. "Some people did call me up and abused me to vent their frustration but they had nothing to do with the underworld," he said.

The director, who has expressed strong views in the past on socio-political issues, also denied that the attack was related to his strong views, including a recent plea to the Supreme Court to intervene, on the virtual ban on the Aamir Khan starrer Fanaa in Gujarat.

With additional inputs from PTI

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Syed Firdaus Ashraf in Mumbai