A movie based on the Nanavati trial

By reading A Time To Kill which is the very first novel penned by John Grisham, the author of several bestselling legal thrillers, I learnt that the trial of a murder committed in USA is not that much linked to the evidences of the crime or the background of that or the laws related to assessment of the gravity of the crime and awarding appropriate sentence for that but to the opinion of the jury members. Well, these jurors are not legal experts, they are laymen from different walks of life and a decision through consensus among them decides the fate of the convict – whether guilty or not guilty. This is a faulty system, no doubt and I am surprised that it prevails in USA (or prevailed till 1989 at least when JG had penned this novel).

However this novel reminded me of a more than three decades old murder trial in India which ultimately led to the abolition of the jury system in our country. On 27th April, 1959, naval commander K.M. Nanavati shot his years old friend – Prem Ahuja dead by a navy pistol under the suspicion of the latter’s having an illicit relationship with Nanavati’s wife – Sylvia. He was arrested and his trial got famous nationwide as the Nanavati trial. It’s this trial only that shot Ram Jethmalani to fame and made him a renowned lawyer (he was on the side of the prosecution) . Nanavati got acquitted through a jury verdict (by a majority of 8-1 votes) and it was a known fact that the jury had got influenced by the media and the public opinion about the case. The judge in the Greater Bombay Session Court – Honourable Justice J.B. Mehta felt the same thing and referred the case to the high court which reversed the jury verdict and the supreme court also upheld it, sentencing Nanavati to life imprisonment. However journalist – R.K. Karanjia created public sympathy for him and swayed popular opinion in his favour through his tabloid – Blitz and pressure was put on the state for his acquittal. Finally, the pardon plea of Nanavati was accepted by then governor of Maharashtra – Vijay Lakshmi Pandit (the sister of then prime minister – Jawahar Lal Nehru) after the victim’s sister – Mamie Ahuja officially forgave him. He got pardon from the governor and migrated to Canada with his 3 children and of course, with his wife – Sylvia who stood by him through thick and thin during the entire trial. But after all this drama, the government took the decision to abolish the jury system in India.

This famous trial which was the subject of everyday talks on the nooks and corners of our country led to the making of some Hindi movies too. Prior to the latest Akshay Kumar starrer Rustom, two such movies were made by seeking inspiring from this real life event – 1. Yeh Rastey Hain Pyar Ke (1963) correctly reading as Yeh Raaste Hain Pyar Ke and 2. Achanak (1973) . The latter was directed by Gulzar. However I am reviewing the former which was directed by R.K. Nayyar (the husband of the gorgeous heroine of the sixties – Saadhana).Yeh Rastey Hain Pyar Ke (1963)Yeh Raaste Hain Pyar Ke (these are the paths of love) is considered as one of the best ourtroom dramas ever made in Bollywood. Based on a controversial, yet sellable like hot cake, real life plot; the movie starred Sunil Dutt (in the role of the murdering protagonist), Leela Naidu (the wife of the murderer) and Rehman (the murder victim). Legendary actors – Ashok Kumar and Moti Lal acted as the rival lawyers in the court whereas Shashikala played another flame of the murder victim (he was portrayed as a playboy).Yeh-Rastey-Hain-Pyar-Ke-1963The script of the movie moves on the similar lines of the incidents of the Nanavati case- the background of the murder, the execution of the murder and the trial of the hero after that. The difference is that the heroine is not shown as getting willingly involved with her husband’s (betraying) friend. The movie shows that though she was broad-minded and ultra-modern, she truly loved her husband and could not even dream of getting into adultery. She was intoxicated deceitfully and then sex was imposed on her during that state of hers. However, the loving husband was shocked to know that and he approached his backstabbing friend with a gun. The spat got followed by firings and seeing his friend as lying dead, the hero surrendered to the law and presented himself for the trial. He could not forgive his wife (without understanding that she had not gone for adultery at her will and whatever happened was more or less a rape of hers only). And to appease the patriarchal mindset of the Indian society, the director shows the hero as getting acquitted by the court but his wife as committing suicide in the end.Art-350The movie starts quite promisingly when the murder has been committed and the hero has been arrested. Then the pain of the hero’s father and the adverse effect of these developments on the children of the family have been shown quite influentially. The children come to know from the talks in the school that their father killed their ‘uncle’ because ‘uncle’ loved their mother. Now the innocent children wonder that they also love Mummy, hence why their Papa was so angry with Uncle if he loved Mummy. How the talks and rumours spread in the society can take a toll on the innocent young, comes before the audience in the most impressive manner. The trauma of breaking of a happy home is able to move the viewers deep within.Yeh-Raaste-Hain-Pyar-KeThe courtroom drama is also pretty impressive with towering performances coming from the acting legends – Ashok Kumar and Moti Lal. However the moviemaker has to depict boldness if at all he is going to make a bold movie. R.K. Nayyar’s boldness deserted him in the climax when he digressed from the real life story and gave a filmy twist to the narrative in the end. There was no need to convert this high tension drama into a regular run-of-the-mill murder mystery but the director did exactly that. And when the wife was innocent and loved her husband from the core of her heart, showing her as committing suicide just because her body had been ‘vitiated’ (that too by deceit) is illogical and as I have said earlier, seems to have been shown to appease the patriarchal mindset of the Indian males only. It appears as if the director wants to say that being open-minded and ultra-modern in life-style is a sin for an Indian lady for which she should be punished. This biased approach of the moviemaker spoils the whole effort.Yeh_Rastey_Hain_Pyar_Ke_poster_23443The songs are very good but they have not been aptly placed in the movie and hence the director-editor duo could not save the movie from getting bored at places. When the courtroom drama is getting momentum, the flow is broken by taking the story into flashback (with songs) which is irritating for the audience who is lost in the courtroom proceedings.

The performers – Sunil Dutt as the hero, Rehman as the philandering man who gets murdered, Ashok Kumar as the defense counsel, Moti Lal as the public prosecutor, Shashikala as one of the victim’s mistresses etc. have all done brilliantly. Leela Naidu was considered as one of the most beautiful women of the world in her time and rightfully so. But she could not raise her performance in the difficult role of the aggrieved wife to the desired level.

As I have said, the editor could not do his duty perfectly. The movie is unduly long also and should have been shortened by 15-20 minutes. However art direction and production value aspects are up to the mark. The cinematographer has captured the snowy beauty of the hill station very well during the romantic songs and the camera work for the intense as well as intriguing scenes is also good. The feelings of the characters and the intensity of the different situations have been exasperated perfectly on the screen in this black and white movie. Ravi has composed great melodies for the meaningful lyrics of Rajender Krishan. The title track, Yeh Khamoshiyaan, Koi Mujhse Poochhe Ki Tum Mere Kya Ho, Aah Yeh Meri Zindagi, Tum Jispe Nazar Daalo, Zulf Lehraai Teri etc. are all ear-soothing songs in the voices of Rafi and Asha.

Yeh Rastey Hain Pyar Ke was a controversial movie of its time and given a certificate of – ‘For Adults Only’ by the Indian censor board. I recommend it for its mesmerizing courtroom drama scenes and the insight that it provides into the real life events of the people related to the Nanavati trial. Adultery of life-partner is painful but to save the home (which consists of children too), one has to be mature and wise too. In my opinion, it could have become a great movie but the director shied away from real boldness and chickened out by opting for a tried and tested filmy formula.

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About Jitendra Mathur

A Chartered Accountant with literary passion and a fondness for fine arts
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6 Responses to A movie based on the Nanavati trial

  1. This was a historic case after which the Jury system ended in India. I haven’t seen any of these movies but would definitely like to see them sometime. Btw they have introduced an additional angle in Rustom.

  2. rekhasahay says:

    This movie is good. But its story is combination of Nanavati and couple of other cases (as director says. )

  3. jmathur says:

    Thanks for the visit and the comment Rekha Ji but perhaps you are referring to the latest release Rustom. The director of Yeh Rastey Hain Pyar Ke, i.e., R.K. Nayyar had passed away in 1995.

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