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April 25, 2000


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She didn't deserve this gory end

Sheila Vesuna

Priya Rajvansh For all the years Priya Rajvansh lived in India, she kept a low profile. She was more difficult to meet than a reigning star who was accessible to writers through secretaries. If you went to her flat at Kalumal Estate in Juhu, even with an appointment, and rang the doorbell, nobody would open the door for you, or you'd hear Priya say in her impeccable voice, "Dear, I'm not well today, could we make it another day."

This, despite having no busy schedule, except the films Chetan Anand made. Priya was a stunning woman, her Hindi diction and dialogue delivery were not entirely perfect. Chetan justified his selection of Priya as heroine of every film of his with the statement, "Other stars have their mothers, secretaries etc interfering. I like to work without these hassles."

I had the opportunity of having dinner at Chetansaab's residence with his lady love. She was not a live-in, she was too classy and dignified to be termed a mistress. She could be at best called his companion and true lover. For that dinner at the bungalow, Priya came all dressed up as though she was going to a very formal do. Chetan was waiting with his formal clothes -- a blazer, trousers and good shoes.

The bearer served the drinks. All formalities were complied with. That night was memorable for me, it was a perfect evening, with the rustling winds and sound of waves at high tides. Chetan spoke of several things. Among them a scene in his film where he wanted Priya, his heroine, to die in the end with her eyes open, which was a difficult scene for any heroine to do. "She did it perfectly. That's what mattered to me."

Those words come to mind now. The real was more macabre. I don't know if Priya's eyes were open or shut when she was strangled. But after the dreadful incident on March 27 when she died, so much has transpired every single day, it didn't matter if Priya's eyes were open when she died. For dead men or women don't speak. And truth is indeed stranger than fiction. For there are so many twists in the tale of Priya's death, that even today, no final conclusion has been reached.

When the news was first reported in the papers it said, 'Priya Rajvansh commits suicide,' 'Priya Rajvansh dies of a heart attack…' The initial news was that she had consumed plenty of alcohol, as she had been in a state of deep depression after Chetan's death a couple of years ago.

Priya had her own apartment at Kalumal Estate, but preferred to spend her time at Chetan's bungalow, which is included in the will Chetan left behind (executed by brother Vijay Anand). The property was divided into three shares -- one part to Ketan, one to Vivek, Chetan's second son, and one to Priya.

Priya Rajvansh with Chetan Anand Incidentally, the property was leased for 99 years, 60 years ago. When Chetan was alive, for a long time, son Ketan lived in Chembur with his German wife, who committed suicide, again in a state of depression, as the marriage had come to an end. The divorce papers had to be signed by her. She asked Ketan to come over before she did. When he reached, she was found hanging. Thereafter, Ketan moved to his father's place.

On the night of Priya's death, only the maid Mala Chakravarthy, whose three children also stayed with her in the bungalow, was present. Mala said she received a call enquiring about Priya as she was to attend a party at 9.30 pm. Mala reportedly had a heated argument with her mistress earlier that evening. Quarrels between Priya and the maid seemed common in the recent past.

Initially Mala told the police that she was sent by Priya to get milk from outside and when she returned, she found Priya dead in the bathroom. The police suspected it to be a natural death since all of Priya's jewellery, worn that day, worth Rs 3 lakh, was intact. So the robbery motive was ruled out.

However, the post-mortem report said that Priya was killed because of 'asphyxia due to strangulation.' Her body was shifted from the Cooper Hospital to JJ for a second post-mortem. The police had given up the suicide theory and were looking at all angles -- involvement of Mala, the watchman Dattu, who reportedly arrived on duty only a few minutes after Priya died, and Chetan's sons, Ketan and Vivek.

Mala was taken into police custody. During interrogation, in a volte-face, she admitted to murdering Priya with the help of her cousin, Ashok Chinnaswami. Mala and her cousin were arrested, while Ketan and Vivek were detained for questioning and later arrested.

Mala, in her confessional statement, said she murdered Priya and had received Rs 4,000 from a 'close family member' to murder the actress. Mala also claimed that she had 'illicit relations' with a member of the Anand family (who turns out to be Vivek, a handsome man married to a classy woman from Manali.)

It seems Priya objected and had fights with Mala on this score. The investigating police officials were sceptical at this new confession and expressed surprise at Mala's allegations. The officer claimed that the case was being deliberately twisted as Mala had "probably been set up to distract attention from the real cause of the death." Meanwhile, they were awaiting the forensic report of the second autopsy.

Incidentally, the police did not question the family physician who was called immediately after Priya was found lying unconscious. It was this doctor who declared the actress dead after examining the body.

Murder was not suspected, either by the doctor or the police officers despite strangulation marks on the neck which was explained as having been caused by the heavy necklace Priya was wearing. Mala, later, had confessed that she had strangled Priya with her dupatta with Chinnaswami's help.

The police, after detaining 10 people -- driver, domestic help, gardener and members of the Anand family -- came to the conclusion that the murder could be the fallout of a property dispute. Priya, it seems, was having financial problems and was goading Ketan and Vivek to sell off the property.

Later it was revealed that she had found a potential buyer for the property for Rs 2 crore. According to the secretary of the society, the property was worth at least Rs 90 crore, but development was doubtful because of the castline regulations.

Meanwhile, Priya's elder brother, Kanwar Singh, arrived from the UK after he was informed about her death. Another development here is a rift between Kanwar Singh and Vijay Anand and the rest of the Anand family. Kanwar said he was pleased with the progress of police investigations.

He claimed the body on April 4 from the Cooper Hospital mortuary and brought it to her residence. It was consigned to flames at around 4 pm on April 4. Among those present at the funeral were Shatrughan Sinha, Siddarth Kak and Vijay Anand who was crying. Ironically, it was Vijay Anand who had rushed to the Juhu residence on hearing the news from the maid. Ketan was at a party at the time of the murder.

There is indeed many a twist in this macabre tale. Apart from the argument with Mala, which was a routine, sources also say that around 3 pm, Priya had an argument with a man at her own flat. It is also learnt that later a scriptwriter had delivered a script for her and discussed it with her in her flat. Priya was keen on producing a serial and was on the lookout for financiers. She had even approached Ketan and Vivek for finance.

Vivek Anand So far, the motive for the murder lies in a property dispute. Satish Manshinde, lawyer for Ketan and Vivek, stated that his clients have been framed. He rejected the theory of any property dispute in the family as he pointed out that the Ruia Park bungalow was tenanted and owned originally by a Mr Mittal and there is no question of bequeathing tenanted property.

Both Manshinde and Vijay Anand dismissed the 'absurd' claim of Mala having an 'affair' with Vivek. Goldie alias Vijay Anand said, "It may be my turn tomorrow to be implicated. I believe both my nephews, Ketan and Vivek, are innocent."

Priya had become friendly with some people who she was keen to sell the property to. Vijay Anand believed that the Anand family's delayed reaction to Priya's murder and investigation was being taken as evidence of guilt. "We did not even apply for anticipatory bail for Ketan and Vivek because we were convinced of their innocence. Now it's a smear campaign," he said.

What upset Goldie was that he was not allowed to attend the prayer meeting held by Priya's brother. He is deeply hurt by Kanwar's attitude. "He had called me up from London, told me he would stay with us. Accordingly, I sent a car to the airport. However, he had obviously been in touch with some other people, as he went away with someone else. We have been suddenly isolated totally."

Anand believes that some influential people and builders were in constant touch with Priya who was insisting on the property being sold. The Anands were against this because the markets were low and neither Ketan nor Vivek were in a hurry to sell.

Goldie has several questions to ask. Why was she killed at Ketan's residence and not her own at Mangal Kiran (gifted to her by Chetan)? "If the boys are sentenced, who will be the beneficiary? Ketan's wife is no more, his daughter has gone back to Germany. There is a long battle now to be fought and it is sad. But we are not going to be intimated by police harassment," he said.

The Anands' advocate counsel had several valuable arguments. It was a known fact that Priya never spent a night at the Ruia Park shack even when Chetan Anand was alive. After Chetan's death she visited it often since she had an emotional attachment to the premises. None of her personal things like toothbrush, comb etc were kept at the Ruia Park shack. There was never any tussle between Priya as a member of the family right since the time she came into their father's life in 1967. Chetan's wife Uma had left him in 1964 to live with the famous theatre person, Alkazi. The custody of the boys was given to Chetan.

There was never any problem between the boys -- who lived their own lives -- and Priya, all these years. After Chetan's demise in July 1997, his will was strictly adhered to. Incidentally it was a great gesture of goodwill that Chetan's wife Uma, who lives in Delhi, had even come to Bombay to condole Priya's untimely death.

Kanwar, however, alleged that the Anands treated her like dirt after Chetan's death. "Not a single member of the family, except Goldie's sister came up to offer me condolences at the funeral. Goldie did not acknowledge me," he said.

Dev Anand has kept a low profile. However, he cannot believe his nephews could commit a murder or even be involved in one. "They can't do it, I know them very well," he said.

Ketan Anand Writer Sooraj Sanim, a close friend of Chetan, confirmed that "Ketan is innocent. I know him too well and he is too thorough a gentleman to have anyone killed."

It is confirmed that Priya had written to Goldie to sell off the bungalow so that she could get her share and move to London. The question that arises is, where would Chetan's sons live then? Besides, the bungalow being on lease, it had several sale implications.

What will be the fate of Speedy and Flash (as Ketan and Vivek respectively were known in Doon School)? The entire case is more complicated than a suspense film plot.

Priya Rajvansh certainly didn't deserve this gory end.

Courtesy: Deccan Chronicle

'It has still to sink in'

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