Monday, 22 June 2015

Book Review: Death in Mumbai by Meenal Baghel

Neeraj Grover, an employee of Synergy Adlabs, a Mumbai based television content production house was murdered on 7 May 2008. A few weeks later, actress Maria Susairaj and her boyfriend naval officer Emile Jerome were arrested for Neeraj’s murder. Eventually, Emile Mathew was convicted of culpable homicide not amounting to murder and for destroying evidence and is still in jail. Maria Susairaj was sentenced to three years imprisonment for destroying evidence – she was acquitted of any role in the murder - and since she had already served most of her sentence by the time the trial ended, she walked free pretty soon after the sentencing. The murder and the subsequent trial caused a media sensation, especially because the murderers were alleged to have cut up the victim’s body into 300 pieces before partially burning it. There have been a number of movies on this topic, but Meenal Baghel’s Death in Mumbai is the only one book on this topic, at least in English, which has been published by a Tier 1 publisher.

At the beginning of her 230-odd pages book, Baghel gives us a hint of what to expect when she says that ‘large swathes of Mumbai have been ‘reclaimed’, as if the sea were an encroacher against whom a case had been filed and won.’ Baghel devotes as much energy and space telling us about the lives of television executives like Neeraj Grover, television moghuls like Ekta Kapoor and Oshiwara where many aspirants to Bollywood and television live and where Balaji Telefilms and Yashraj Films have their offices, as she does in narrating the story of Neeraj Grover, Maria Susairaj, Emile Jerome and the people who surrounded them in their day to day lives. We even get glimpses of celebrity movie directors such as Ram Gopal Varma!

Neeraj Grover was a Kanpuria, the son of an immigrant from Peshawar. A small town boy who dreamed of making it big, as restless, hardworking and ambitious as they come, a glib talker who was successful with women. Baghel, true to form, takes her readers to Kanpur and walks them through the city which was once called the Manchester of the East before ennui and industrial decay took over. Emile Jerome on the other hand was the son of Malayali immigrants to Mysore, middle-class to the core, educated at good schools such as St. Matthias and Marimala Pass. Jerome was unsuccessful in cracking the IIT entrance exam, but made it to the Naval Engineer’s Course in 2000. After completing his BTech, he decided to join the Marcos, India’s reputed marine commando unit, but was not accepted, more because the Navy did not want to lose an engineer. He however passed a grueling divers course, one in which only 5 or 6 out of 30 odd applicants qualified.

Maria Susairaj was the spoilt daughter of a construction moghul in Mysore, an immigrant from Tamil Nadu. She went to the same school as Emile, but was his senior. Neeraj Grover and Maria Susairaj had a lot in common. They both wanted fame and were willing to take shortcuts. Emile Jerome and Maria Susairaj did not have much in common, other than that they were from Mysore and were Catholics. Did Maria actually love Emile? Most probably she did, since she always introduced Emile as her fiancĂ© even though Emile’s haughty parents had refused to accept her. Why did Maria want to marry Emile even as she flirted around Oshiwara, trying to make her way up the Bollywood ladder? Why did Emile kill Neeraj? Was it an unplanned act carried out in the heat of the moment or was it preplanned? Did Emile and Maria have sex immediately after the murder? Or was it an act of rape? These questions do not have easy answers, but Baghel does not best to provide some in her excellent book. Written in elegant but limpid prose, Death in Mumbai is a riveting read for all those interested in the Neeraj Grover murder.

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