On August 14, 2004, Dhananjoy Chatterjee, a security guard in Kolkata, was hanged on the charges of raping and murdering 18 year-old Hetal Parekh. Chatterjee was accused of raping and killing Parekh in her apartment on March 5, 1990, convicted and executed 14 years later after a lengthy trial.
The Bengali movie Dhananjoy, directed by Arindam Sil, revisits the trial and the accompanying media hysteria, which was led by political heavyweights, including former chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s wife Meera. Chatterjee maintained his innocence throughout his incarceration, and legal activists pointed out that he had been convicted on the basis of dubious eyewitness testimonies and flimsy circumstantial evidence.
Arindam Sil, who has a penchant for turning out crisp and topical crime thrillers, says he was drawn to the subject because of the injustice meted out to Chatterjee and his family. The August 11 release stars Anirban Bhattacharya in the lead role. In a conversation with Scroll.in, Sil spoke about trial by hysteria and the importance of revisiting the case 27 years later.
What attracted you to the Dhananjoy Chatterjee story?
It actually happened through one of my friends, filmmaker Atanu Ghosh. Atanu emailed a few links to me and I found them interesting. I called him and said, wouldn’t it be nice if we made a film on this subject? He said, I want you to make a film on this, which is why I sent you this stuff.
Then, of course, I got into it. I started my research, started meeting people. I came across the book by professors of the Indian Statistical Institute. I met Dhananjoy’s family, their neighbours. I met people who testified in court at the time that Dhananjoy was a culprit but now said that they had appeared as false witnesses under duress. They also said that they had been made to sign on some papers that were in English.
Even as more such startling facts came up, I became more and more stubborn about making this film.
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When was this?
This was about a year ago. The research went on for seven-eight months. During a conversation with Shrikant Mohta of Shree Venkatesh Films, I told him that a film must be made about this trial. Within five minutes, he agreed. So that’s how it started off. Then the whole process became quite painful… extremely.
In what way? Did you face any resistance?
No, there wasn’t any resistance. The process was painful because we were coming across facts that defied the norms. We came across a family that had been tormented for the past 27 years. Yet, when we visited their home, it seemed as though Dhananjoy had been hanged just yesterday.
The family was disturbed both by the media and the police. They live in absolute fear, every day. They still fear the taunts and bad mouthing by the media, neighbours and the entire village. Because I made a film about Dhananjoy, their neighbours heckled them, alleging that they had been paid four or five lakhs to agree to the film. They have not taken a single rupee from us.
Our society takes some responsibilities but also acts foolishly, and that’s why Dhananjoy was hanged. Even before the court judgement was out, society had decided. The chief minister [Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee] said, I will resign if Dhananjoy is not hanged. How could someone sitting in his chair say this? He had no right.
Everybody chanted, he is Dhananjoy, he is a rapist, kill him. There was no direct evidence, there were no conclusive circumstantial evidence. There was no semen found in the vagina, no tissue culture was done. There were a series of serious lapses and this family had no money to fight till the Supreme Court.
My heart goes out to Hetal Parekh. Hetal and Dhananjoy, and the things Hetal’s family had to go through. But that doesn’t mean that we will bury the truth.
Have you met Hetal Parekh’s family?
The family cannot be found. When I last heard, they were somewhere in Mumbai. I know Hetal’s father has passed away; her mother is not in her senses. His brother is now married but they cannot really be found.
Hetal Parekh’s family has been destroyed; Dhananjoy Chatterjee’s family is living in fear. Why do you think this film had to be made?
Firstly, even after 27 years, if there has been an injustice and if I can in my way contribute towards the truth about the family that has been disgraced, I have to do it.