Thursday, 11 August, 2022
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Parties over, no lunches: Why Bollywood is avoiding HDIL gilded couple Sunny and Anu Dewan

For the couple's Bollywood friends to admit any proximity now is to implicate themselves in the consumption of life savings of PMC's depositors.

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Sunny Dewan was the vice-chairman and managing director of Housing Development & Infrastructure with a penchant for Rolls Royce and Ferretti yachts; Anu was his high school sweetheart, BFFs with other Russian Red-lipped ladies who lounge around – from Bhavana Pandey to Malaika Arora, from Maheep Kapoor to Karisma Kapoor (a stray look at Anu’s Instagram profile is proof enough).

Together the couple threw some of the poshest religion-agnostic parties in Mumbai. No festival, from Karva Chauth to Christmas, was complete without a party where Anu Dewan didn’t strike her trademark pouty pose with her posse and Sunny didn’t look chuffed to be in the company of A-list Bollywood actors and their B-list groupies.

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Dewans in trouble

That was then. Earlier this month, the real estate mogul, also known as Sarang Wadhawan, and his father Rakesh were apprehended on charges of cheating, criminal conspiracy and breach of trust in the Punjab and Maharashtra Cooperative Bank (PMC) fraud case. The bank had loaned Rs 6,226 crore to HDIL, amounting to approximately 73 per cent of the bank’s total assets. With HDIL defaulting on the loan, the bank’s 17 lakh depositors are in a free fall.

Now call or send messages to their famous friends and this is the Mumbai equivalent of the social ostracism of Bina Ramani after Jessica Lal was murdered at her party, in her restaurant, on her watch in 1999. If No One Killed Jessica, no one seemingly knew the Dewans were spending a fortune on parties even as their company owed crores of money to a bank where middle-class depositors had saved their hard-earned money. “Lovely”, “down-to-earth”, “sweet”, “poor Anu”, are just some of the words you get in response to questions about the once gilded couple, with urgent follow-ups insisting “I didn’t know them so well,” “we only met socially”, and of course, “please don’t quote me”.

The story of HDIL’s collapse is a metaphor for Mumbai at many levels. There is the story of Mumbai’s land and its ever-changing regulations that can enrich and impoverish at will. If the change in the Slum Rehabilitation Act in the 1990s allowed the Dewans (Sunny and his father Rakesh, whose nephews Kapil and Dheeraj Wadhawan launched that other troubled real estate finance company DHFL) to redevelop slum land into residential complexes, the 2013 termination by the Mumbai International Airport Pvt. Ltd (MIAL) of its contract to redevelop slums around the airport was one of the triggers for HDIL’s collapse.

Gyan Prakash, author of the classic Mumbai tale, Mumbai Fables, encapsulates this well to ThePrint: “Developers, speculators, and governments have throughout the city’s history traded on and sold dreams of owning a home to use land as a bottomless source of wealth. Booms and busts are part of this speculative history”.

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HDIL’s downfall

HDIL’s implosion is also the story of the end of a particular kind of state-sponsored business that acquired criminal dimensions, thanks to willful corporate misgovernance on the part of public sector banks, notes political analyst Arvind Bosmia. From Vijay Mallya to Nirav Modi to Subrata Roy, private affluence has been funded by public money. Add to it the stagnation in India’s real estate business that upset HDIL’s market plans, with the loan burden becoming a crushing overload on captive banks.

The HDIL’s woes also point to how corrupting wealth and its ostentatious display can be. Behind the glitz of celebrating birthdays of superstars and launches of friends’ books, there is also the fragility of relationships built on mutual convenience. For the couple’s famous friends to admit or reveal anything now is to indict themselves, that they somehow were party to the private yet rather conspicuous consumption of the life savings of lakhs of depositors.

In 2007, HDIL raised Rs 1,485 crore from an Initial Public Offering (IPO) that immediately propelled the Dewans into the big league, at number 26 on the Forbes India Rich List 2007 with a fortune of $2.35 billion. A 2008 story in the UAE paper The National, on India’s new rich and their toys, noted with some awe that ”Sunny Dewan Wadhawan, the managing director of the property developer HDIL, has two Rolls-Royces – the Phantom and the D8 coupe, as well as a Land Rover, a Bentley, a Hummer, a Lamborghini and a Porsche. “You name it, he’s got it,” jokes Ravi Bhagwat, who runs the repair garage of Mumbai’s Navnit Motors, that has one of India’s two Rolls-Royce dealerships. The report adds that Dewan has ”snapped up one of a Ferrettis [Rs] 8.5 million (Dh 41.8m), and he loves to be photographed with his Ferrari F430 Modena. The underground car park at the neo-classical Wadhawan Mansion on Pali Hill is stacked with luxury cars”.

Another profile in Forbes in 2010, titled “Slumdog Billionaires”, had this to say about the father and son: ”Listed on the Bombay Stock Exchange, Housing Development is the largest redeveloper of slums and also owns cineplexes and retail malls. Last year it netted $105 million on revenue of $330 million. Its market cap is $2.3 billion. Between them the two Wadhawans own a third of it”. But by 2014, HDIL’s sales had fallen to 8.45 per cent and profits had plummeted by 16.59 per cent CAGR during FY15-FY19. Since the beginning of 2019, the company’s stock has fallen 87 per cent.

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The Insta stories

Log on to Anu Dewan’s Instagram account, and the beautiful photos with messages from beautiful people don’t stop – there’s one dated 1 July where she is posing by a water body with gal pal Sussanne Khan Roshan asking “Where are u?”; there’s another from 10 July with model Ujjwala Raut asking “Whr r u babe?”; and yet another from 18 July, from Twinkle Khanna asking “When are you back?”

The last photo Anu Dewan has posted seems to be an old one from 19 August, with film producer Ritesh Sidhwani commenting “We need a new picture”. He may have to wait a while.

Last reported, Anu Dewan was being questioned by the Enforcement Directorate, along with her mother-in-law Malti in connection with the PMC Bank case.

The author is a senior journalist. Views are personal.

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  1. The one thing that’s missing in this article is the role of the government in causing such a crisis. The unstable policy environment is what results in most bankruptcies in this country, the majority of the real estate and infrastructure firms have bit the dust mainly owing to either non-payment from government agencies, not getting clearances or approvals quick enough or some other form of red tape.

    If rich people like Anu Dewan want to lead a gilded life there is absolutely nothing wrong with that!

  2. When will India’s high and rich will be able to control their greed and stop rampant corrupt practices to make wealth or show up their wealth?

  3. Where is miss funny bones now.. No article on her babe or sweetheart now? Shame on people who attend parties but can’t come to the fore to discuss issues.. Atleast people would know their stand on such fraudsters..

  4. Saw a video report by Ms Sucheta Dalal which states that the family transferred as much as 20,000 crores from public entities to family firms. This scale of diversion / siphoning off is not possible unless statutory auditors, “ independent “ directors, even other banking and regulatory authorities are asleep at the wheel. If the Wadhawan family had either integrity or common sense, they ought to have known how this would ultimately end.

  5. Sadly the insta account has now become private. Looks like I have to get my dose of vicarious voyeurism at some other wanna-be celebrity hanger-on’s account.

  6. As it transpires from the media reports both HDIL and DHFL have looted the nation. The part of the loot has been spent on Bollywood parties. Those who attended should now hide their faces in shame. I think that Banks should, before financing any family owned venture should obtain investigative reports on the members of the family, their spending habits, hidden assets and all other relevant information. We have too many corporate honchos who in reality are thugs : Nirav Modi, Choksey of Geetanjali group, Mallya, Singh brothers of Religare group/ erstwhile Ranbaxy Farma – the list is endless. It is also reported that 31 individuals have fled the country after duping the nation collectively by whopping sum of Rs.40000 crore. The government has taken a cue from this and has considered a list of 91 people who associated with companies which are wilful defaulters. Wadhawan is a name added to the list.

  7. This what media is doing, many says” prostitutes “not very far from sand ki aakh. There are chances when same prostitute gets monies will not be be behind to praise same fellows.

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