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Stranger than fiction

Stranger than fiction

Perfect murder is a fantasy. It simply does not exist. Take the case of the 1998 American movie  A Perfect Murder, which was a remake of Alfred Hitchcock’s earlier film  Dial M for Murder. Let me narrate the plot in brief. A wealthy couple leads an ostentatious life. The man who is an investor finds his investments going awry. He desperately needs a large sum of money to maintain his status.

He knows that his rich wife can help him but he also knows that she has a secret lover, a jailbird who specializes in seducing wealthy women and cheating them of their money. 

The husband approaches the lover with a plan. He offers him a large sum of money to bump off his wife. Everything happens in the planned way except that the wife kills her mask-wearing assailant.

When the mask is removed, it is found that the assailant was not the lover but a man hired by the lover to kill the woman. A series of mishaps happen leading to the killing of the lover by the husband and the husband by the wife. The wife takes the plea in the court that she killed her husband in self-defense. 

When the murder takes place, she does not suffer any injury but when she appears in the court, she has a wound, a self-inflicted one to buttress her self-defense plea. The film’s title is justified in a way because the wife is able to fool the court and escape punishment. But, then, it is the failure of the prosecution to notice the self-inflicted wound that helps the woman to go scot-free.

Or, take the case of the story narrated by Truman Capote in the book  In Cold Blood. It is a non-fiction novel by the American author, first published in 1966; it details the 1959 murders of four members of the Herbert Clutter family in the small farming community of Holcomb, Kansas. 

The investigator had no clue about who committed the murders but he painstakingly pours over all the details to finally arrest the persons who executed the murders in the hope of laying their hands on a huge sum of money but getting nothing but a pittance. It is a book every journalist and aspiring journalist should read.

In every incident of crime, it is said that God leaves his mark and it is the job of the police to notice it, unravel the mystery and, finally, reach the culprit. In the mid-nineties, Delhi was rocked by the murder of a woman by a Congress leader. All that the police had to do to arrest the man who  planned the murder was to press the redial button on the woman’s land phone. The call reached the leader. 

It was obvious from the timing that the last call was made by the hired killers who informed him that the job was done. He was arrested and he served a lifetime in the jail.

Just last week, a small girl was raped and killed. Her body was disfigured, put in a suitcase and dumped in a stream far away from New Delhi. While stuffing the suitcase with the body, the killer forgot to take out one dress which was inside it. The police was able to reach the owner of the dress and thereby arrest the killer.

To use a philosophical argument, man is imperfect. He is bound to make mistakes in whatever he does. Remember the notorious killers — Billa and Ranga — who killed two children — Geeta Chopra and Sanjay Chopra. While the police were looking for them all over the country, they got into a train and had a needless fight with a large group of Army men, who thrashed them and handed over to the police who realized that they were the ones whom they were looking for.

In short, the police job is to look for that divine mark and thereby solve the case. These thoughts were occasioned by the arrest of Dileep, originally Gopalakrishnan, the superstar of Malayalam movies. Now the question is, why am I, a Delhi-based freelance journalist, disturbed by the arrest. There are three reasons. One, I was horrified by what happened to an young actress on February 17 this year. She was waylaid, attacked, molested and pictures of her in a state of undress were taken.

There are any number of criminal incidents happening everyday. We do not get disturbed by them but if a minor incident happens to one of our friends and relatives, we are touched by it. That is what happened in this case too.

The victim is one of my favourite actresses. I never saw her except in celluloid. Her attackers thought that she would keep the incident secret for fear of “public humiliation”. Far from that, she told the police everything that happened to her. She fully cooperated with the police, even at great inconvenience to her professional career. She would, perhaps, have remembered what the famous writer Madhavi Kutty alias Kamala Das alias Kamala Suraiyya had written about “public humiliation” — there is no humiliation that cannot be washed away by soap and Detol. It led to the arrest of some, including Pulsar Suni, a driver-turned-contract killer. An impression was created that the photographs were taken to blackmail her.

The moment reports came that Dileep had a hatred for the actress, whom he believed was the one who told his first wife and actress Manju Warrier about his affair with his present wife Kavya Madhavan, many had a nagging suspicion that it could have been a contract job. At least I had the suspicion, though without much basis.

Every time I go to Kerala I visit a relative’s apartment at Aluva. It overlooks a vast riverbed where lakhs of people assemble for the Shiv Ratri celebrations. Dileep’s house has a beautiful name — abode of Lotus. It is adjacent to the apartment complex. In fact, from the floor where my relative stays, one can get a close view of the celebrity’s house. 

Few buildings look beautiful from the roof, except the Taj Mahal, which the UP Government under Yogi Adityanath says, is not part of the state’s heritage. He forgets that no other building in India attracts as many tourists — both domestic and foreign — as this tomb built by a distraught husband for his doting wife. Even Dileep’s palatial house looks just a concrete structure from above.

The house is situated in an upmarket area in Aluva. It is also adjacent to a royal house which today houses the state guest house. I happened to be in the apartment when the renovated guest house was inaugurated by  the then Chief Minister Oommen Chandy. It was a few years ago that Dileep bought the plot and the house situated in it. Recently, it was demolished and rebuilt. Last month I had a look at the house out of curiosity and I saw a lady in the courtyard. Was the woman Kavya Madhavan? My daughter-in-law is convinced that it was her “maidservant”.

While I saw Kavya in that woman, my nephew, who is a mechanical engineer and is employed by a Skoda dealer, was able to identify one of the fleet of cars in his garage as a BMW. Why I mention it is because the car also figured in the case that led to his arrest.

The police case is that Dileep gave the contract to humiliate the actress to Pulsar Suni. He was promised a large sum of money. He probably wanted to derail her marriage plans. 

It seems Dileep does not trust anyone, not even Pulsar Suni. He wanted proof from him that he actually humiliated her. That is why he was asked to take pictures of her private parts and also other tell-tale evidences like pictures of her rings and ornaments to prove that the pictures were indeed hers. Puslar Suni is believed to have passed on the pictures to Dileep to convince him that the job was done.

It was the fetish for photographic evidence that helped the police to unravel the mysterious assassination of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. When LTTE chief, the late Velupillai Prabhakaran, ordered his assassination, he also wanted proof of how it was done. A freelance photographer was engaged to take the pictures of the last minutes of Gandhi.

Alas, the photographer was killed along with Gandhi and the human bomb Dhanu. When the police got hold of the camera which remained intact, they could get a clear picture of the human bomb holding a garland and all set to kill the former Prime Minister. The photographs helped the police to identify the girl and all those who were behind the conspiracy. Some of them are still in jail.

If the photographer had escaped the bomb blast, the police would have difficulty in identifying Dhanu as the Sri Lankan Tamil who had come all the way from the island nation to kill Gandhi for the “mistake” he committed in first befriending Prabhakaran and, then, sending the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) to hunt him down.

In the case of Dileep, the plan failed when the actress did not keep quiet but boldly went to the police and gave them vital clues like the identity of Puslar Suni. She did not leave anything to imagination. Dileep made the mistake of claiming that he did not know Pulsar Suni when there were many eye-witnesses who saw them together. There was a picture of the two holding secret confabulation in a car parking area.

It was, again, the Keralite’s fetish for mobile photography that prompted the eye-witness to take a photograph of the two holding discussions. Why is the case so different from the ordinary? Dileep is a successful actor, who has assets worth hundreds of crores of rupees. Reports have come that prove that he is vindictive.

I grew up hearing stories of megastar Prem Nazir returning the money he received from the producer if he found that the film flopped at the box office. In one celebrated case, Dileep got a film personality arrested for the simple reason that a cheque he gave him bounced. Dileep did not listen to saner counsel that it was unpardonable to send a person to jail when he is not in a position to honour his financial commitment.

Vendetta is part of our culture. Crime is as old as mankind. Whether one believes in the Biblical theory of creation or not, let’s remember that one of the first siblings mentioned in The Book turned out to be a fratricide. What Dileep allegedly did is worse than what Ravan did to Sita. Raven kidnapped her to take revenge for the disfiguring of his sister by Lakshman. He did not touch her.

In the case of the actress, the attempt was to ravage her modesty and reduce her to a pulp. Come to think of it, it was planned by someone who acted with her and with whom he was once supposedly close. Could anything be more heinous than this one?

Yet, the tragedy is that AMMA, the body of film artistes in Kerala, appeared to be taking a pro-Dileep stance, though the actress was also a member of the same body. Two film stars-turned-MLAs even appeared to be defending Dileep when they met the Press. Mamootti preferred to fiddle with his mobile phone while the MLAs defended him to the hilt. Of course, nobody comes forward to defend him now, though there are many who claim that he was a good man, who helped many come up in life.

There are good people as there are bad people in every organization. Everybody is naked under his or her dress. If a priest like Fr Robin is accused of impregnating a teenager, it is not the job of the church to defend him. Rather, it is the job of the church to do everything possible to force him to accept his guilt and protect the interest of the girl and the baby born to them.

Similarly, AMMA’s job should have been to leave the matter entirely to allow the law to take its own course. 

The arrest does not mean that Dileep would be convicted, particularly when the conviction rate in criminal cases is very very low. He has all the wealth to defend him in a court of law. He may even have the proverbial last laugh. But there is one power which knows everything and there is no escape for anyone who messes up with Him.

Let me conclude with two lines from the 16th-century poet Poonthanam’s  Njanappana:

Randu nalu dinam kodangoruthane,

Thandilethi naduthannathum bhavan

Malika mugalileriya mannante,

Tholil marappu kethunnathum Bhavan.

( In a matter of day or two You are He,/ who makes them ride on the royal chair./ On the shoulder of the king who climbs to the top of palace,/ You are He, who places the tattered heap). How true!

The writer, a senior journalist, can be reached at  ajphilip@gmail.com

(Published on 17th July 2017, Volume XXIX, Issue 29)