It’s not easy playing a character modelled on Neeraj Grover, whose gruesome murder on May 6, 2008 grabbed headlines. The body of the 27-year-old creative head of BIG Synergy Adlabs was chopped to pieces and set ablaze in a jungle by Maria Monica Susairaj and her navy lieutenant boyfriend Emile Jerome Matthew.
Neeraj had apparently promised to help the Kannada film actor find a foothold in Mumbai’s TV circuit. But his closeness to Maria had upset her soon-to-be-fiancé.
Emile arrived unannounced at her doorstep early one morning, and finding Neeraj with Maria, fatally attacked him with a kitchen knife. Ram Gopal Varma is recreating this story of sex, betrayal and blood on screen as Not A Love Story. Ajay Gehi, who plays the ‘filmi’ Neeraj, recently shot his death scene in Maria’s Dheeraj Solitaire building at Malad. He admits that he hasn’t been able to sleep for the last three nights. “It took it’s toll not just on me but all the actors and Ramu sir too,” says the actor who remembers shooting for the TV serial Milli when he first heard and read about the case.
It gave him the shivers because, as Ajay points out, Neeraj was from the industry too, and it was almost as if he knew him. “I remember thinking that if something like this could happen to him then it could happen to me too,” he reminisces. Varma’s offer took Ajay by surprise. But the actor who’s starred in just two films before this, Vishal Bhardwaj’s Maqbool in which he played Pankaj Kapur’s son-in-law, and Mani Ratnam’s Raavan as the bald, moustached Vibhishan, didn’t want to let go the opportunity of working with the director.
So, in two weeks he lost all the muscle he had built up and read up on the case again. “Of course, it’s only a fictitious account, but still it can be disturbing shooting a film on the scene of an actual crime. Several of Maria’s former neighbours keep peeking in to see what is going on. Some are pleased the crime is being documented while others are confused about whether it’s the right thing to do,” says Ajay.
He admits that he was halfway through the film before he told his parents about his latest role and left them speechless. “But I’m sure even they will see the film. Everyone, including me, is curious to see Ramu’s take on the case,” he reasons.
And what if some day he were to come face-to-face with the real Maria who is presently behind bars? How would he react? Ajay retorts, “More than me, I wonder how she would react to the idea of Neeraj coming back to life.”