Deepa Bar owner starts TV channel, netas throng launch party

Seven years after Mumbai's infamous Deepa Bar which was caught in a major cricket betting scandal in 2005 shut down, Sudhakar Shetty, the owner of the bar, has turned television entrepreneur.

A party to launch Shetty's Marathi news channel, Jai Maharashtra, at Mumbai's Grand Hyatt hotel on Saturday was attended by top politicians including Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan, union Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde and Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar, besides several Bollywood stars.

Before it downed its shutters in 2006, the high-end dance bar in suburban Vile Parle was a favourite meeting spot for politicians, bureaucrats, businessmen, film industry personalities and cricket bookies, and had the "crorepati bar dancer" Tarannum Khan as its main attraction.

Shetty is the chairman of the real estate company Sahana Group, and the launch of the channel adds to the long list of builders and chit funds players who have floated media organisations, allegedly because of the political clout and patronage they bring. Shetty is learnt to be planning a Hindi news channel after the Marathi channel takes off.

"While he was still in the hotel business, Shetty part-financed a couple of Bollywood films," said a Maharashtra Police officer who declined to be identified. "In September 2011, the income-tax department raided his Andheri office in connection with alleged tax evasion by the Darshan Group of developers, in which he allegedly had some stake," the officer said. Shetty, the officer said, had cultivated close ties with Maharashtra politicians and Bollywood actors since his Deepa Bar days.

Guests at the launch party on Saturday included, besides Chavan, Shinde and Pawar, BJP leaders Nitin Gadkari and Gopinath Munde, Maharashtra ministers Narayan Rane, Chhagan Bhujbal and Babanrao Pachpute, Bollywood actors Priyanka Chopra, Suniel Shetty, Dharmendra, Sridevi and Om Puri, lyricist Javed Akhtar and producer Boney Kapoor.

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