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HindustanTimes Thu,02 Oct 2014

What ails No One Killed Jessica?

Pankaj Vohra, Hindustan Times  New Delhi, January 12, 2011
First Published: 16:29 IST(12/1/2011) | Last Updated: 16:56 IST(12/1/2011)

I happened to see the much-publicized movie, No One Killed Jessica the other day. I had always wanted to see it since I have followed the killing of the model very closely and also the subsequent trial which first led to the acquittal of prime accused Manu Sharma and later his conviction by the High Court and the Apex Court.

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The movie left me very disappointed since it had a brilliant plot, which got botched up by the filmmaker's inability to develop the two central characters - Jessica Lal and Manu Sharma. In fact, no justice seems to have been done to the two central figures and instead the role played by Rani Mukherjee inspired by Barkha Dutt's TV exploits as well that of Sabrina Lal enacted by Vidya Balan are very exaggerated and perhaps over blown. However, the film maker has given a fairly accurate account of the party host (Bina Ramani's) character and has also in shades depicted the personality of Jessica Lal fairly well though there was ample scope of developing her character much more. Since justice has been denied to the two central characters, the movie which many of my friends have also found gripping appears weak to me.

For those who are not familiar with the case, the movie gives an impression that Manu Sharma's conviction was secured through extra judicial methods since judicial methods had failed during the trial stage in the Sessions Court with witnesses turning hostile. The suspect was convicted because of media pressure and thus his conviction is the victory of the media (in this case of the TV anchor) even though the evidence on record was strong enough to pave the ground for his acquittal. It is a sad commentary on our judicial system and thus endorses the use of media to apply pressure on the courts to secure conviction. This gives rise to a feeling that it was not the judiciary but the media, which 'killed' (got him convicted) Manu in the case.

The movie in a way justifies the bribery by Sabrina Lal in order to ensure that one of the witnesses struck to his guns while deposing against Manu Sharma in court. But the said witness accepts money from the grieving sister and there is only a suggestion that he turned hostile since he got a bigger amount from the relatives and friends of Manu Sharma. Though the movie touches on the theme of manipulation of the judicial system, it fails to convincingly bring that out.

There are some inaccuracies in the narration of how the events unfolded and the filmmaker has essentially relied on Manu Sharma's confession made before the police and captured on tape and the limited version based on an account provided by Sabrina Lal. The actual story had several dimensions and sides and had all those been touched, the film had the potential of making it very big. At least it would have been slick and more focused. There are several questions, which have not been addressed by the film.

Why was Jessica Lal taken to a heart hospital in Safdarjung Enclave after being shot in an illegal bar and not to Safdarjung hospital or AIIMS? From the heart hospital why was she shifted to Apollo, 14 kilometres away and not to Safdarjung or AIIMS which were within two kilometers? Did someone want her to die as dead persons tell no tales? What happened to the clothes, which she was wearing when she was shot? Where are they? Who cleaned up the scene of the crime and washed away crucial evidence from the scene? Why did the hostess of the party call up the then Home Minister (and not the local police or police control room immediately) after the crime? If she had seen Manu Sharma shooting Jessica why did she fail to recognize him in the sessions court? How did the police show that the Sub Inspector who reached the spot was there though the police station's official records show that he was 17 kilometres away at Asola village? Why did the police decide to name the criminal even before the investigations started.

Normally, the investigations proceed from the crime to the criminal but in this case it was vice versa. Therefore the police found itself unable to gather evidence to link the accused?  There are many other inaccuracies, which will always remain and could become a part of another murder mystery. Even the basis of the High Court reversing the Sessions court verdict defies legal logic. Finally, the Supreme Court observations on the High Court verdict reflect very poorly on how judgements should be written. A great opportunity missed to make this tragic incident into a mind rivetting movie.

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