Is Bollywood movie ‘Rustom’ based on a real incident?

By Sunil Kumar

Yes; the movie ‘Rustom’ is a fictional reworking of a real-life incident.

Here’s some of it in detail;

On the afternoon of April 27, 1959 Commander Kawas Maneckshaw Nanavati stepped out of his home in Cuffe Parade, Colaba, on a short but tragically momentous journey. Along with him in his car were his English wife Sylvia, 30, and two children. An alumnus of the Royal Navy College in Dartmouth, the officer was second in command of the Indian Navy’s flagship INS Mysore. He had seen action on various fronts during WW-II, had been awarded many medals for gallantry and was among those who were especially recommended by Lord Louis Mountbatten as the British marched out of India.

After Nanavati's acquittal by the Jury was dis...

Visit After Nanavati’s acquittal by the Jury was dismissed, his retrial was held in the Bombay High Court. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Just 37, Nanavati, who, it would seem, embodied an ideal had a lot to look forward to. But just before lunch that day, his world came crumbling down. Sylvia, whom Nanavati had met in England in 1949, had confessed to him that she was in love with another man, a family friend called Prem Ahuja( a Sindhi).

As he drove their car past the fishing boats at Badhwar Park, through the pong of drying fish, and along Azad Maidan, Nanavati’s demeanour betrayed neither the humiliation nor the vengeance-fuelled anger of the cuckold. As was previously decided, he dropped the kids and Sylvia at Metro Cinema for a matinee show of Tom Thumb.


Kawas Nanavati

Visit Kawas Nanavati (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

He then drove towards Bombay Harbour where his ship was docked, informed the captain that he was leaving by road for Ahmednagar and requested him for permission to draw a revolver and six rounds. He put the gun into an envelope and pointed his car in the direction of Universal Motors, a Willys Jeep showroom owned by Ahuja, on Peddar Road in south Bombay. But Ahuja had gone home for lunch and was probably still there. Nanavati got back into his car and headed towards Ahuja’s flat in Setalvad Lane off Napean Sea Road, near Malabar Hill.

Sylvia Nanavati

Visit Sylvia Nanavati (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

With wavy hair, thick eyebrows and an evolved sense of the sartorial, Prem Bhagwandas Ahuja cut an attractive figure. Ahuja, 34, was an excellent dancer. He also had a history of seduction and a penchant for bedding the wives of officers in the Armed Forces. A regular presence at many of Bombay’s British-era clubs and Services parties, Ahuja ensnared many a forlorn woman with his rakish charm.

According to the Blitz, the racy left-leaning tabloid which folded in the mid-1990s, Ahuja was “a gay Lothario who loved to graze in other people’s pastures. He had started his career as a philandering playboy rather early in life. Even in Karachi (the Ahujas migrated to India after Partition and Ahuja stayed with his sister Mamie) he had run away and gone through a form of marriage with her…” It was also said that Ahuja, the recipient of many epistolary dedications and photographs, never wrote to any of his lovers nor did he ever part with any of his pictures.

Ahuja had just finished having his bath when Nanavati was let into his third floor apartment by the housemaid. Nanavati walked into Ahuja’s bedroom and closed the door behind him. A little later, three shots rang out. Ahuja, clad only in a towel, lay slumped on the floor. Nanavati walked out of the apartment, past the anguished cries of Mamie. He then drove down Malabar Hill, asked a police constable at the gates of Raj Bhavan for directions to the nearest police station and upon being directed, drove to the nearby Gamdevi Police Station to surrender himself.

This led to considerable friction between the Sindhi and the Parsi community at that time. The editor in the movie is based on Rusi Karanjia; who was editor of “Blitz” in Bombay(Mumbai). Also Ram Jethmalani was one of the lawyers in the case; and also a distant relative of Prem Ahuja. Many years later Jethmalani remarked off-the-cuff that he believed Ahuja did all the things mentioned and even more.

It led to considerable drama at the time; and there were even Ahuja towels and Nanavati memorabilia sold by entrepreneurs. So; it played out as a patriotic naval officer vs playboy narrative as in the movie. However; the end is filmy. He was let off initially by a jury; a decision the judge Mehta did not agree with; and then again put in jail.Vijaylakshmi Pandit; the governor pardoned Nanavati after a few years; he migrated along with his wife Sylvia to Canada and was never heard off again in India. Also; another interesting fact is that the jury system came to an end in the country.


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