Akshay Kumar's Rustom is based on the Nanavati case; the similarities can't be ignored
Akshay Kumar's highly anticipated Rustom is out in theatres today.
And while it has created a fair bit of excitement on social media in the run-up to its theatrical release, unfortunately, it seems as though the film itself has let down reviewers.
Rustom's director Tinu Suresh Desai-directed film (he previously helmed 1920 London) has repeatedly claimed that his film is not inspired by the real life case of Commander KM Nanavati.
Desai asserts that Rustom is a work of fiction, albeit with the Nanavati case as a reference point.
However, the similarities are too many to discount, and one can easily pooh-pooh Desai's statement.
The bare facts of the case are well known:
Commander KM Nanavati was a highly decorated naval officer; he lived in Mumbai (then Bombay) with his English-born wife Sylvia. On home from shore leave, he discovered that his wife was having an affair with flamboyant playboy-about-town Prem Ahuja. Nanavati confronted Ahuja about the affair — the latter was in his bathtub at the time according to most accounts of the case — and when Ahuja refused to marry Sylvia, Nanavati shot him three times.
Nanavati then surrendered himself to the police.
The Nanavati case was fascinating for a variety of reasons: it led to the abolishing of the jury system in India, created friction between two communities (the Parsis, to which group Nanavati belonged; and the Sindhis — Ahuja was one, as was his sister Mamie Ahuja, who was heavily involved in the court battles subsequent to Prem’s death), and the role the media (notably the tabloid Blitz run by Russi Karanjia) played in shaping public perception of the case and its principal parties.
In fact, it is one of the headlines from the Blitz's coverage of the trial — "Three shots that shocked the nation" — that were used as the tagline for Rustom as well, when its trailer was unveiled.
The overwhelming similarities between Rustom and the Nanavati case cannot be dismissed by Desai — even if the film introduces another angle to the case — apparently one involving a military conspiracy of some kind.
Most reviewers have said it is these extraneous elements that are one of the major weak points of Rustom, with one piece calling it an attempt at "enforced patriotism" (side note: perhaps this was to capitalise on the release date's proximity to Independence Day?).
In real life, Nanavati was released from prison after three years; his case was helped with a pardon signed by Mamie Ahuja (played by Esha Gupta in Rustom, overshadowed by her cigarette holder and frozen bouffant) and the efforts of a number of people working on his behalf. He went on to live in Canada with Sylvia and their three children, and passed away in 2003.
Incidentally, the story of Sylvia Nanavati inspired the song ‘Sylvia’ in Anurag Kashyap’s Bombay Velvet. Apart from this, the Nanavati story has triggered a host of other re-tellings — including the Hindi films Yeh Raaste Hain Pyaar Ke (1963) and Achanak (1973).