Bodies of Mumbai artist Hema Upadhyay, her lawyer found in drain
Celebrity artist Hema Upadhyay and her lawyer Haresh Bhambani were murdered, their bodies packed in cardboard boxes and dumped in a drain in a Mumbai suburb, police said on Sunday.
The brutal double murder was discovered when a man rang up police around 7.30pm on Saturday to inform that he saw a leg protruding from a box in a stormwater drain opposite a crematorium in the Dhanukar Wadi area of Kandivali (West).
The 1972-born Hema’s hands were tied from behind while 65-year-old Bhambani’s face was mangled, indicating a violent death from multiple blows with a blunt object.
The place where the bodies were recovered was quite far from Hema’s home on plush Juhu Tara Road.
Officers investigating the case said the Baroda-born artist, known for her soulful work, was probably smothered with a pillow. The bodies have been sent for an autopsy to know the exact cause of death.
“The bodies were wrapped in transparent polyurethane before being stuffed into cardboard boxes. They were securely tied and did not have any clothes on them except for undergarments,” a Mumbai police officer said.
Police sources said the bodies have not decomposed, which indicate that they were killed in the past one or two days.
The artist’s domestic help, Lalit Mandal, said his employer last called him around 6.30pm on Friday, asking him to have his dinner as she would have hers outside. “When she did not return at night and I found that her number was switched off, I rang up all her relatives and friends and even her estranged husband in Delhi.”
Hema — born Hirani — married Chintan Upadhyay and settled in Mumbai in 1998. They worked together in many exhibitions but around 2010, the couple filed for a divorce.
After making enquiries, Mandal registered a missing complaint at Santa Cruz police station on Saturday morning.
The family of Bhambhani, who was Hema’s divorce lawyer, registered a missing complaint too. The lawyer had left his Matunga home in his grey Honda City car around 6pm on Friday, telling his family that he was going to meet a client in Andheri.
The last call he made was around 8.30pm on Friday and police traced its location to Kandivli. After that Bhambani’s phone was switched off. Police didn’t name the last person he had talked to.
Chintan, who was still fighting the divorce battle in court, reached Mumbai on Sunday morning following the news. Crime branch officers have recorded his statement.
Shocked friends and compatriots described Hema as an invaluable part of the contemporary art scene, whose work was primarily photographic and sculptural while her installations explored the realms of human migration to cities, female identity in India, nostalgia and loss.
“She was a lovely and extremely sweet person ... not a mean bone in her body,” said Shireen Gandhy, whose art gallery, Chemould, hosted Hema’s first solo exhibition in 2001.