A day before the release of his Bollywood crime-mystery film Rustom, actor Akshay Kumar visited John Lobo, former deputy commissioner of police, crime branch, who was in-charge of the infamous Nanavati case, on which the film, that released on August 12, is based.
As Akshay entered Lobo’s house in Bandra, Mumbai on Thursday, and walked over to the 95-year-old, his family greeted him with gleaming eyes. The photo of Akshay adorning the white navy uniform, as a part of the film, was shown by the actor to an impressed Lobo.
“At the age of 95, it is astonishing that he (Lobo) remembers every case that he had investigated; including the one my film is based on. It is unbelievable that he was able to recall which investigating officers were part of the case and sequence of events,” said Akshay, adding that playing the character of naval commander Kawas M Nanavati was tough initially but with time, became smooth. “It is now for the audience to choose again, whether Nanavati was innocent or not,” said the actor.
On meeting Akshay, Lobo said that the actor is as tall as Nanavati. “He (Akshay) is much like the fine, tall specimen I had met almost 60 years ago,” said Lobo.
On April 27, 1959, Lobo was in his office at the Mumbai police headquarters at Crawford Market. It was around 5.30 pm, when a striking looking man walked in. “A tall, handsome gent in a white shirt and slacks walked in. He had a perplexed look on his face until he let go off the following words, ‘I shot a man’,” said Lobo about KM Nanavati.
Nanavati had murdered his family friend, Prem Ahuja, a businessman after he learnt from his wife, Sylvia, about an affair between the two. “I distinctly remember telling Nanavati that there were other ways of dealing with this individual. I rebuked him for taking law into his hands. This was the only conversation I had with him, before asking him to hand over his murder weapon,” said Lobo, adding, “Indignation gave way to a desire for revenge but the law took its own course and convicted the naval officer.”
As Lobo sat on his chair near the window of his sea-facing apartment, he narrated the dramatic story that developed on the summer evening, a few days before he was planning to go on a holiday to Ooty. A police officer who firmly believed in the rule of law, he had no sympathies for Nanavati. “If I were in his shoes, I would never have carried out such a rash act,” he said.
Lobo’s conviction in the supremacy of the rule of law was staunch in the face of a personal tragedy. In 1997, he lost his wife, Stephi, to a car accident, a stone’s throw away from his residence. “He maintained his poise and professionalism,” said Amelia Correa, his daughter.
Lobo narrates a story of 20 years after the murder
Twenty years after the murder, lawyers and investigating police officers involved in the trial accidentally came together in the same room during a conference in New Delhi.
From 1959 to 1979, John Lobo, who was deputy commissioner of police, crime branch was promoted to director, Central Bureau of Investigation and then became chief security liaison officer for prime ministers - Indira Gandhi and Morarji Desai.
Karl Khandalawala, the defence lawyer became a top-rung criminal lawyer in Mumbai, then young lawyer and prosecutor in the case Ram Jethmalani moved up the ranks to become a Supreme Court lawyer and YV Chandrachud, then government pleader became the Chief Justice of India.
“When all of us were in the same room, we knew in our heads how we had all met in the past but not a word was spoken about the case apart from Jethmalani making a passing comment that they knew each other,” said Lobo. “A shadow of doubt still looms over what actually transpired in that room when Nanavati decided to pull the trigger on Prem Ahuja but all of us had the satisfaction of a fair trial.”
He added that after then Governor of Maharashtra, Vijay Laxmi Pandit pardoned Nanavati in 1962, Lobo had no personal reaction. “I had done my duty and so had the state. Integrity and truth had been held up and the accused had done his time,” he said.
Lobo, the disciplined man
Even at the age of 95, John Lobo lives by a schedule. Apart from diligently completing the daily crossword and reading the newspaper, he makes his way to a church adjacent to his apartment building every day. While his hearing ability has reduced, his memory is sharp.
Retired at 58, he is surrounded by a large family comprising of three sons, two daughters, their children and great grandchildren. He now lives a peaceful life accustomed to his chair facing the endless sea at Bandstand Bandra (West), reminiscing his many cases over the last six decades.
Follow @htshowbiz for more.