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K.M Nanavathi and Sylvia


One thing leads to another... I was going through some promotional articles of the upcoming Bollywood movie - Rustom and learnt that it is based on a real incident that changed the judicial system in India - KM Nanavati Vs State of Maharashtra Case. When I searched for the Nanavati case in Wikipedia, I read many blogs which made the case interesting and intriguing. At the end I was convinced that this is a perfect recipe for a Bollywood blockbuster. Further search showed that there were already 2 movies made on this story - Yeh Raaste Hai Pyaar Ke (1963) and Achanak (1973) with the latter helmed by my favourite filmmaker Gulzaar. So I watched Achanak on YouTube.

Achanak (1973) was about an upright army officer Major Ranjeet Khanna (Vinod Khanna) being trialled for killing his wife Pushpa Khanna (Bengali actress Lily Chakravarthy) and shot when he was trying to escape. The movie travels back and forth to explain the love story between Ranjeet and Pushpa and the circumstances in which he chose to kill his wife along with her illicit lover. Since the film is directed by Gulzaar, he brings the pain of a man who not only loved his wife deeply but also chose to kill her and fulfill her wishes after the death.

Vinod Khanna in Achanak

Gulzar makes himself heard on various complexities of human psyche and against the death penalty in this crisp songless movie. Especially a soldier being rewarded for killing many lives in the battle field but the same soldier is sentenced to death for killing the people who cheated him. Even though he is the killer of his wife, he risks his life to escape and immerse his deceased wife's mangalsutra in Ganges. When he was shot by the police, the same law treats him in the hospital for the wounds, waits till he is fine and takes him to the gallows of death.

Gulzar even makes a silent statement supporting Ranjeet's act by making his father in law supporting the act of killing the unfaithful wife and shedding tears when Ranjeet's death sentence is confirmed. The public sympathy for him is represented by the nurse and the out patient doctor and when he is taken to death, the doctor loses faith in his profession. A new patient arrives and the film ends with doctor resuming his duty with a statement "They'll keep doing their operations, and we'll keep doing ours".

The real incident is that the Indian Commander Navy Kawas Manekshaw Nanavati a.k.a KM Nanavati was married to British born Sylvia and blessed with 2 sons and a daughter. Due to his work, he was away for long periods and during these periods of loneliness, Sylvia developed an illicit affair with Nanavati's friend Prem Bhagwan Ahuja. Sylvia even wanted to divorce Nanavati and marry Prem Ahuja but later realised that she is not the only woman Prem is having affair with.

When Nanavati came home, he found his wife distraught and aloof. Repeated attempts to find the reason made Sylvia confess her affair with Prem and her doubts of Prem's intention to marry her. Nanavati took Sylvia and 3 children to the Metro Cinema in Bombay but excused himself and on a false pretext went to his Naval base and picked his pistol. He went to Prem's house and found Prem just stepping out of his bathroom in towel. Nanavati asked Prem whether he can marry his wife and take care of the kids.

But Prem's answer sealed the fate and it was "Will I marry every woman I sleep with?", on hearing this Nanavati fired three close-range shots killing Prem Ahuja. Nanavati keeping his composure cool, came out even had a small chat with the security of the building and surrendered himself to the Provost Marshal of the Western Naval Command and on his advice, turned himself into the Deputy Commissioner of Police.

On the open court Nanavati pleaded not guilty and defended himself that the murder was at an impulse, in the heat of the moment but not premeditated. But Prem's sister Mamie Ahuja contested that his brother's murder was a planned one. Nanavati was acquited by the session's court but the judgement was overturned by Bombay High Court. The news paper Blitz heralded the release of Nanavati by running the story for three long years when Nanavati was in jail.

Nanavati case in Blitz Newspaper

This case caused friction between the powerful Parsi community to which Nanavati belonged to and slained Ahuja's Sindhi community. Jawaharlal Nehru's sister Vijayalakshmi Pandi was the Governor of Maharashtra, given the history of Nanavati being closer to the Nehru family, on an opportune moment, she pardoned Nanavati after Mamie Ahuja was persuaded, by Ram Jethmalani who shot to limelight with this case, to give in writing that she agreed to pardon him.

After the release Nanavati migrated to Canada with his wife and children. He passed away in 2003 and Sylvia is survived by her three children.

Lust sometimes overshadows love and makes people stray. But forgiving the partner's mistake and accepting them back makes the love withstand the test from time. Understanding the difference between the physical lust and the emotional love needs a detached view and when the protagonists exhibit that, it becomes an overwhelming experience... Nanavati had proved his love for his wife by a murder, three years of sentence and standing by her throughout.

Akshay Kumar as KM Nanavati

The movie Rustom hits screens next week and I am looking forward for this interpretation of Nanavati's case.

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About myself
Author: MaheshwaranWebsite: https://www.maheshwaran.com
I am a SAP Consultant in my late 30s, residing in the happeing IT City - Bangalore. My interests vary from reading to travelling to handicrafts to photography. My latest interest is on Body building. May be this vivid interest keeps me going in my life without getting bored.

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