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Review: Death In Mumbai

It is never easy to write about an actual murder, a brutal one at that, and Mumbai Mirror’s Editor Meenal Baghel has penned a gripping account of the 2008 Neeraj Grover killing.

books Updated: Jun 22, 2012 07:55 IST

Death In Mumbai

By Meenal Baghel

Random House

Pages 232 Rs 299

It is never easy to write about an actual murder, a brutal one at that, and Mumbai Mirror’s Editor Meenal Baghel has penned a gripping account of the 2008 Neeraj Grover killing.

A young television company executive, Grover may well have been as ruthlessly debonair, callously arrogant and dashingly playboyish as Prem Ahuja was in 1959. When the highly decorated Naval Commander, Kawas Manekshaw Nanavati, found his beautiful wife, British-born Sylvia, having an affair with Ahuja, the enraged husband shot the lover dead.

Grover’s case appeared to run parallel to the Nanavati story. But unlike the naval officer’s life, Grover’s was one of glamour, part of the celebrity circle that he was.  When he met Maria Susairaj, a small-time television actress aspiring to make it big in Bollywood, Grover probably saw several opportunities here. He could have made her a star, and, well, had a passionate sexual affair. Susairaj wanted to fly, but she really did not have the great good looks to hit stardom. Maybe, she saw in Grover, a hope, however faint, to fulfil her dream.

But Susairaj was engaged to Emile Jerome Mathew, a dashing naval officer, and this man was jealous, and so horrendously that his fiancée could not even fathom.

Baghel pieces together the events leading up to what can be called a Shakespearean tragedy, and whose dramatis personae were three young people who could not care how they lived their lives or how bloody the road they chose to travel. Here was a woman who played around with the emotions of two men – with one ultimately butchering the other. Here was one man, who threw morals to the winds and slept with one whom he knew was engaged to be married. Here was another man so consumed with jealousy and distrust that he could not hold himself back.

Baghel of course had a classic plot to fall back upon that ran like a pulse-pounding thriller, but she goes beyond mere retelling of the murder, mere reportage. And herein lays the book’s value. In fact, the story may have well been a racy mystery, a gripping novel,   if we had not known about the Grover affair.

Baghel bases her work on extensive interviews with the families and friends of Grover, Mathew and Susairaj to take us deep into the psyche of all three. Neeraj was a flirt, a small-town boy with the drive of a big town dreamer. Maria was certainly manipulative, a no-holds-barred climber, while Emile was an upright guy who fell for the wrong woman.

The book also tells us how Inspector Satish Raorane and his team cracked the case. Obviously, Susairaj and Mathew were novices in the game, who naively believed that cutting a body into pieces and burning it could help destroy evidence – and let them escape. A crime can only be perfect when it is covered up with precision. The killers were clumsy and left their footprints all over!

Baghel also tries to tell us about the pressures of the entertainment industry and how they drive men and women to the precipice. Her chats with Ram Gopal Varma, who made a film on the Grover murder, Not A Love Story, Moon Das, who was offered a role to play Maria’s character in a movie, and Ekta Kapoor, Neeraj’s boss in Balaji telefilms, are insightful.

Although Baghel attempts to stop herself from sympathising with any of her characters, it is apparent that she has a soft corner for Mathew. He really was no murderer as Susairaj was a seducer and Grover a womaniser. Yet, Mathew remains in jail, while Susairaj has walked out after serving a three-year sentence. As much as killing can never be condoned, the one who provokes a murder, the one who manipulates emotions must, in the final analysis, bear the cross of guilt.

Despite the fact that the Grover killing took place four years ago, Death in Mumbai is still an exciting read, and Baghel’s prose is racy and may well have been an Agatha Christie work.