They all look alike
lnp3 at panix.com
Thu Jul 18 06:42:13 MDT 2002
NY Times, July 18, 2002
Bollywood Farce: Indian Actress and Family Are Detained
By LYDIA POLGREEN
The Vermas could have been any family flying into New York City for the
first time. Looking down on the glittering island, Ravi Verma delivered an
excited monologue in Malayalam, pointing out the Statue of Liberty, the
Empire State Building and the skyscrapers of the financial district to his
wife and two daughters.
This was no ordinary family. One of Mr. Verma's daughters, a star of
Bollywood movies, is on a tour of the United States. Her fans in Kerala, in
southern India, consider her the Julia Roberts of Malayalam-language films.
She has starred in 18.
But other passengers on American Trans Air Flight 204 from Chicago Tuesday
night feared that the family had a more sinister purpose. Acting on a
nervous passenger's suspicions, the authorities called in two fighter jets
to escort the plane to La Guardia Airport, where it landed at 11:05. The
entire family, two traveling companions and another man were taken into
custody for several hours of questioning by the joint terrorism task force.
"I don't know, maybe they thought we were choosing targets or something,"
Mr. Verma said yesterday in an interview at his hotel in New Jersey. His
20-year-old daughter the movie star, Samyuktha Verma, is touring in a
variety show with an Indian singer and a comedian for audiences across the
country. Ms. Verma's last film, "Thenkasipattanam," was the
highest-grossing Malayalam film ever.
What unfolded on the flight and at the airport Tuesday night was a comedy
of errors worthy of most ingenious screenwriters in Bollywood, India's film
industry, Mr. Verma said yesterday. "Really, it was all a
misunderstanding," he said.
According to law enforcement officials, a passenger on the flight had been
alarmed by the behavior of members of the group and alerted a flight
"At least one passenger perceived the seven to be engaged in suspicious
actions," said Alan Hicks, a spokesman for the Port Authority. "According
to passengers they were constantly passing notes and switching seats. A
passenger reported this to a flight attendant, who notified the pilot, who
notified ground control."
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