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To Catch A Thief On Telly

A unique television crime show stumps outlaws on the run

To Catch A Thief On Telly

IN an ad-mad market, the success of a serial is measured by TRPs alone. But India's Most Wanted (Zee, Tuesdays, 10 pm) is different. It really is. Its producer-director, Suhaib Ilyasi, prides himself on the number of fugitive criminals the show has dragged into the police dragnet. "We serve as a link between the police and the public so that criminals can't get away with murder," he says.

It's working. IMW, a half-hour show that reconstructs an unsolved case each week, has been on air for six months. It has already scalped as many as six absconders. The show's latest bull's-eye hit—Shriprakash Shukla—has been its most celebrated. The dreaded UP criminal, involved in 26 cases of murder and abduction, was gunned down by the police in the Delhi-Ghaziabad border area on September 22 following a tipoff from an alert viewer of IMW.

Information is power. By placing it in the public domain, this unique show has unleased an energy that the police has rarely tapped. "Confidence is growing among the public and the police," says the 32-year-old Ilyasi, a mass communications graduate from Delhi's Jamia Millia. "Initially, IMW was met with scepticism. It was felt that we were interfering with the work of the police. But once the force realised that we were only helping them, the attitude changed."

Time was when Ilyasi sat for hours outside the chambers of senior police officers, waiting for brief appointments. Today, his weekly show is a known entity and cooperation is extended a lot less grudgingly. Says Amod Kanth, joint commissioner of police, Delhi: "By creating public awareness, this serial has certainly helped in bringing absconders to book."

The Shukla episode of IMW—it stunned viewers by revealing that the contract killer's next target was the UP chief minister—was aired on September 8. In two weeks, the outlaw was dead. The end was hastened by a call Ilyasi's Aalia Productions received on September 9 from a viewer who spotted Shukla's blue Cielo in Lucknow. The message was relayed to the UP police.

On September 21, a Delhi viewer informed the makers of IMW he had seen Shukla's car at the capital's AIIMS crossing. The pursuit that ensued culminated in a fierce encounter in which Shukla lost his life. "After the episode on him, he made several abusive phone calls to our office, threatening us with dire consequences," says Ilyasi, who's now been given police protection.

Among the show's other successes is the case of Anoop Kumar Roy, a 26-year-old man from Assam who killed a prostitute in his Karol Bagh, New Delhi residence and fled to Mumbai. The police had no idea of his whereabouts for a year-and-a-half. But less than 90 minutes after IMW pieced together his story on June 16, Roy was nabbed from a restaurant in Mumbai's Ulhasnagar, where he was working as a steward. The episode had ended at 10.30. Ten minutes later, a viewer called in and provided the clinching information. IMW passed the message on to the Delhi police which got in touch with Mumbai. At 11.45 that night, Roy was arrested.

The arrest of Sushila Shrivastava, who stole babies from hospitals and cheated childless couples of lakhs of rupees by posing as a doctor, took much longer. She was featured on IMW on April 7. With a viewer's help the police arrested her from her Bareilly residence on May 10. Another criminal, Yashpal, involved in at least six murders, was captured in Gajraula, UP on July 31, three days after IMW unmasked him.

The high strike rate of IMW has had its impact. The police departments of many states have approached Ilyasi for assistance. "They want us to feature criminals they are hunting for, " says the TV professional who spent five years in the UK where he chanced upon the BBC show, Crime Stoppers. "Though the treatment was different, the concept was the same," he recalls. Back home, Ilyasi had little trouble in deciding what his first show would be.

And what a debut it's been! Ilyasi's show has proved to be the end of the road for several absconders. But it's only the beginning. Backed by a nationwide network of 350 freelance correspondents, mostly journalists employed by dailies and periodicals all over India, Ilyasi is confident of cracking many more underworld mysteries. "My staff is a brave lot. They are aware of the risks they face but that isn't going to stop them," he says.

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