For all the fear that his name may have evoked, however, Thackeray genuinely loved films (and film stars). For many years, a Raj Kapoor portrait adorned the wall in the visitors’ room at Matoshree. His nephew Raj Thackeray’s real name is Swara Raj—a name chosen by the tiger as a tribute to the actor in the late 1960s. Before the Sena took a strong Hindutva line, Dilip Kumar too was his friend. “Dilipsaab would often drop in at Matoshree for a gupshup session and leave only after a sumptuous Maharashtrian meal,” says one of Thackeray’s close aides.
Years ago, the thespian had sought Thackeray’s intervention following a Sena ban on the release of Hindi films made by South producers. This was in retaliation to the DMK’s anti-Hindi movie stir in Tamil Nadu. “Dilipsaab came to Matoshree with the Tamil producer of Aadmi,” recalls the Thackeray aide. “The producer pleaded his case before Balasaheb, who made it clear that the ban on Aadmi would be revoked only if the DMK softened its line on the Hindi film issue. The producer telephoned chief minster C Annadurai and the dispute was resolved amicably.”
The Sena’s anti-South stir didn’t seem to dim Vyjayanthimala’s affection for Balasaheb and his wife Meenatai. “Vyjayanthimala was my rakhi sister. If she couldn’t make it to Matoshree on Narali Purnima day, she would post a rakhi to me,” the Sena patriarch had once told this correspondent . Then there was Rajesh Khanna, who would always be armed with two bottles of champagne when he visited—one for him and one for Thackeray . “The two would talk till past midnight ,” says a Thackeray kin. Outside Matoshree too, there was glamour—Dharmendra , Jeetendra and Mithun Chakraborty would often attend the Bharatiya Kamgar Sena meetings as star guests.
Lata Mangeshkar, too, had an excellent equation with the Thackerays. According to Sena folklore, the singer was eager to extend financial assistance to Bal Thackeray when he launched the Sena in 1966 but without making her name public. Thackeray, so goes the story, politely turned down the hefty donation, saying that by remaining anonymous Lata wasn’t going to help the Sena cause. In later years, however, Lata never concealed her close ties with the Sena.
Many cinema folks made a beeline for Matoshree when in a crisis. Industry veterans recall how, after the Sena agitated against Sanjay Dutt for his TADA illegal weapons case, Sunil Dutt finally visited Thackeray and sought his “blessings”. Thackeray promptly issued a statement giving a clean chit to Sanjay, much to the consternation of many Sainiks. The Sena supremo stood behind Bachchan as well when the actor was accused in the Bofors case. The Thackeray-Bachchan friendship deepened with passing years.
It wasn’t only actors who ran to Matoshree to mollify the Sena chief. If film-maker Mani Ratnam went to seek clearance for Bombay, which had a character allegedly based on Thackeray , Enron spokesperson Rebecca Mark went to discuss the future of the MNC which the Sena chief had once threatened to “throw into the Arabian Sea” . Global superstarMichael Jackson and southern phenomenon Rajanikanth too lit up Kalanagar with their presence. In a sense, it was always celebrity time at Matoshree.