A little bit of Monica

BEFORE SHE was associated with the D-gang, she was identified by another letter — B. As in B-grade. She was a 20-something starlet then. Desperate about making it in the movies, shy and uncertain, which is even today the definition of a starlet.

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Published: Fri 27 Jul 2007, 10:44 PM

Last updated: Sat 4 Apr 2015, 8:43 PM

moniHer performances in the debut film Suraksha (1995) and Khilona (1996) didn't help her much. "My film career was a sheer accident. I was new to Mumbai and accepted whatever came my way without too much thought," she once said.

Aditya Panscholi, one of her earliest co-stars, describes her as "a very nice and sweet co-star," while others like Shakti Kapoor and Suniel Shetty remember her as sober, quiet and even vulnerable.

Despite her initial flops, slowly and inexplicably, she began to land roles in bigger films. She starred in David Dhawan's Jodi No 1 and Rajiv Rai's Pyaar Ishq Aur Mohabbat. At that point, she said, "Now my bad phase is over." Of course, she was wrong.

She was linked romantically with slain filmmaker Mukesh Duggal. She always insisted that this was nothing more than a professional association. She is believed to have met Abu Salem during a starry night in Dubai when she was drifting away from Duggal. Salem, by then a small fry no more, took a fancy to her.

Her association with Salem changed her. "She obviously liked the thrill that came with having a dangerous boyfriend," a top actor says. She has hinted in interviews that having a godfather in Bollywood helped her. But when asked specifically if she wished to have a Ram Gopal Varma do for her what he had done for Urmila Matondkar, she countered, "No, I'm not asking for a godfather like Ramuji. If you're talented, you get noticed."

But she did have a godfather. A godfather who made calls. It was rumoured that it was one such call that helped her bag David Dhawan's Jodi No 1 (Sonali Bendre was originally signed for her role). Monica was in fact asked by a journalist for her position on this rumour and she had said, "Honestly all this talk is rubbish. I have done more than 20 films in the South. Who pressurised them to do films with me?

People should give some credit to my talent." Despite her claims that she rose in the film industry through 'talent' (that, by itself, is a hilarious statement), circumstantial evidence points to an invisible hand that guided her sudden rise. That hand belonged to Salem.

An actor remembers that she hated being made to wait on the sets of Jodi No.1. "Then, it looked like she made a phone call," he recalls. "Soon David was only taking shots of her while others including Govinda and Sanjay Dutt were made to wait in the Goa heat." On another occasion, unit members remember her being ushered through Mumbai customs and security like a VVIP.

Before she vanished from the country and went into hiding with Salem, a film scribe who was close to her saw her packing all her valuables in the twin flats she used to own in the MHADA building. Ostensibly, she was packing for Rajiv Rai's Pyaar, Ishq Aur Mohabbat in which she was paired with Aftab Shivdasani.

"It's a long foreign schedule," Monica explained. But, clearly, that was not the reason why she was packing every pin in her possession. She was going away for good.

Her true personality is still not clear. Different people remember her through conflicting adjectives. A producer who hosted her and Mukesh Duggal remembers her as a reserved girl who kept her eyes cast on the floor throughout the meeting. But film-maker Guddu Dhanoa says, "I still remember seeing her with a friend, laughing and giggling like she had no care in the world. I don't think she's an introvert."

Dhanoa is waiting to make contact with Monica as soon as she steps out of the prison gates in Hyderabad. He has a script ready for her. "I couldn't work with her earlier. Now I have a new script for her," he says.

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