January 10, 2020
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Death Of An Actress

Priya Rajvansh's whodunit has something Bollywood never had: a plot that only thickens

Death Of An Actress

She might be best known for her performance in Haqeeqat, but the reality of her murder, few know about. Ever since Vera Singh, better known as actress Priya Rajvansh, was discovered dead in the bathroom at filmmaker Chetan Anand’s Ruia Park bungalow in the Juhu suburbs on March 27, ‘truth’ has come in a smudged variety.

A property dispute-centering around Chetan Anand’s plush seafront bungalow, which he got on a nominal rent and which is now worth crores-is cited as the motive. In the fir registered by the Juhu police, Chetan Anand’s sons, Vivek (53) and Ketan (50), maidservant Mala Chaudhary, who’s worked for the family for over 11 years, and her associate Ashok Chinnapaswamy, have been named chief accused. Vijay Anand, Chetan Anand’s filmmaker brother, thinks the property angle is tenuous-he claims the property isn’t worth too much, and secondly, the Anand brothers couldn’t possibly have inherited Priya’s share since she’d have written a will. Vijay Anand, incidentally, is the executor of his brother’s will.

Priya, as per this will, had one-third claim to Chetan Anand’s Ruia Park bungalow. The rest was divided equally between the two brothers. Priya’s friends say, caught up in grave financial troubles, she wanted to sell the property and claim her share. They also admit she didn’t have a great relationship with Ketan and Vivek. Her expatriate brother Kanwar Singh has revealed she had communicated to him about how she was being treated shoddily. "She used to write to me, though not recently, about what she was going through. I know she loathed the maid but the brothers wanted her to stay." Vivek was allegedly romantically involved with the 35-year-old Mala.

The police say Mala has confessed that she and Ashok attacked Priya when she was in the bathroom and then strangled her. According to the maid, Vivek Anand had promised them Rs 4,000 for the murder, a figure so low as to have surprised many in Mumbai. In fact, according to the fir, Vivek was there in the Juhu bungalow the night Priya was murdered. The initial plan apparently was to poison her, but this idea was changed later.

Of course, loopholes abound in the four-page report the police have prepared. The arrests of the Anand brothers have been made chiefly on the merit of the maid’s confessions and the incomplete, distraught letters Priya wrote to her brother.

One problem is the theory that the brothers would want to harm Priya to usurp her property doesn’t go a long way. A real estate agent points out that, contrary to media reports, the Ruia bungalow is not worth Rs 10 crore, but much less. "The highest bid was less than a crore," explains Vijay Anand. "And no builder in his right mind would pay more because the FSI (floor space index) has been used up. No one can build a huge multi-storeyed structure there." The bungalow is also believed to have been under the Coastal Regulatory Zone (crz)-such properties don’t exactly woo builders.

More importantly, the counsel for the Anand brothers had told the Bandra metropolitan court, which had a special hearing on the Guddi Padva day, that the property dispute angle was weak because the bungalow was a rented one. Drawing a clearer picture, Vijay Anand says: "It’s on a 100-year lease. I wouldn’t say the bungalow cannot be sold but it is ridiculous to imagine that Priya doesn’t have a will and that her one-third will be shared between the two brothers. I am not saying this as the uncle of the two brothers, but just look at the whole thing. Why would two men want to risk a murder in a bungalow that they want to sell and profit from? And who would think that strangulation can pass off for heart attack? The whole thing is just too ridiculous. " He also claims that even the police has lost interest in the property dispute angle. "Now that angle is weak. So they will find something else."

That something else could relate to the suicide of Ketan Anand’s estranged German wife three years ago. She is believed to have taken her life about a year after the couple separated by hanging herself from a ceiling fan after excessive drinking. Her daughter had come down from Germany to claim the body. According to Vijay Anand, the daughter has "cordial relations with her stepfather. Just because two people separate doesn’t mean they kill each other."

The police, claims Vijay Anand, is taking the conspiracy theory too far. "We were not the ones who filled in the void Chetan Anand left in her life. There were many people she befriended." Mysteriously, he adds: "The police should search for some of the friends she made in the last six months. I know for a fact the cops aren’t really going to chase the property dispute angle for long. But if I tell the media what I have in mind, the police will come out with a report stating they have tried that angle too and it didn’t yield anything."

What is disturbing about the whole affair is that while the maid Mala’s confession has been integral to the case so far, some police officials in the Juhu police station confirm that Mala’s nine-year-old son and 14-year-old daughter too were ‘interrogated’. "Which woman will not break down and say what everybody wants to hear if she knows that her children, especially her 14-year-old daughter, are in police custody," asks Vijay Anand.

As the story goes, Mala, who was a power centre of sorts in the house, found the body in the bathroom as she came to the house on the night of March 27. Her initial statement was that she had stepped out to buy milk. Why she would go out in the night to buy milk is not as vital as the fact that she told the police that it was a case of heart attack. In the beginning, the cops took it for granted that Priya’s was a natural death. She, as her friends admit, was much older than her documented age of 57. But during the post-mortem at the Cooper hospital, Dr Vanmore discovered that "the cause of death was strangulation. There were also injuries on the head caused by a hard and blunt weapon. There was no way she could have strangled herself."

Mala, confronted by these facts, said the marks on Priya’s body were caused by her chain which broke when the body was being shifted from the house. However, a second post-mortem confirmed the conclusions of the first one. Murder it definitely was. Only the motive is unclear.

Priya’s intimate relationship with the late Chetan Anand was common enough knowledge. Chetan first saw Priya in a picture photographer Jitendra Arya had taken of her at the London Underground. He persuaded Priya, then Vera Singh, to come to Bollywood. That was the birth of the actress and Chetan Anand’s relationship with her.

On his death, Chetan Anand’s will clearly stated Priya was entitled to one-third of whatever the Ruia bungalow was worth. TV personality Siddharth Kak’s wife Gita, who was close to Priya, says: "She used to tell me sometimes that she was facing serious financial troubles. And that the property had to be sold for her to have some money in her hand."

Shashi Ranjan, yet another TV personality who knew Priya well, points out that since she wanted to sell off the bungalow, there was friction between her and the two sons of Chetan Anand. "I would say that the brothers and Priya didn’t share a great relationship. And the maid Mala used to be very nasty with Priya. Sometimes she wouldn’t even give her food. "

Priya had her own flat in Juhu. She used to go to the Ruia bungalow to perhaps relive and recount the sweet moments she had shared with Chetan Anand. Everything, however, changed after his death. Explains Gita Kak: "I never liked going to the bungalow because I knew what she was when Chetan Anand was alive. She was reigning. But after his death the atmosphere changed."

Whichever way the case progresses, all that’s left for Priya’s dear ones are her memories. Cricketer Mohinder Amarnath remembers her as a "pleasant woman who was highly refined. She was always a trifle too elegant for Bollywood. She made a mark more as a devastatingly beautiful woman than as an actress."

Dev Anand-evergreen hero, brother of Chetan Anand and uncle of the two brothers in police custody-says: "She was a wonderful woman. She made my late brother very happy. As the uncle of Vivek and Ketan Anand, you will understand how I feel. They are nice, gentle boys. But I will be analytical about the whole thing and wait for the investigation to get over."

The bloody shroud has fallen unceremoniously on another old belle of the matinee. Priya Rajvansh certainly deserved to have the curtains fall gently over her last show.

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