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‘Dhananjoy’– Revisiting Mass Hysteria That Led a Man to the Noose

Arindam Sil tries to tell the story of a proclaimed rapist, Dhananjoy Chatterjee, who never got benefit of doubt.

Published
Movie Reviews
4 min read
A still from the movie ‘Dhananjoy’.
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In the wee hours of 14 August 2004, a crowd had gathered outside Kolkata’s Alipore Jail. Some came with placards, many with news cameras and others just wanted to be a part of what they considered to be a morbid yet momentous occasion. After 14 years in trial, Dhananjoy Chatterjee was finally going to walk to the gallows for the rape and murder of 14-year old schoolgirl Hetal Parekh. The then Chief Minister’s wife was at the forefront of a campaign to demand Dhananjoy’s hanging and the death sentence had been upheld by both the Kolkata HC and the Supreme Court. The Hetal Parekh case had a set narrative with very little space to raise questions about the fallacies in the investigation. Thirteen years later, director Arindam Sil is doing just that in his courtroom drama Dhananjoy.

Unravelling the Popular Narrative

Dhananjoy was convicted purely on the basis of circumstantial evidence. Even at the time, there were gaping loopholes in the investigation. However, mass hysteria around the case and heightened media attention meant that most were scared to even suggest that Dhananjoy may be innocent. The film’s trailer starts with documented footage of Dhananjoy in jail, stating firmly: “I’m innocent. This is a conspiracy against me.” This was his stance throughout the trial and not once did he relent. In an interview to Scroll, director Arindam Sil said,

I met people who testified in court during the time Dhananjoy’s trial was on, but now they said that they had appeared as false witnesses under duress. They also said that they were made to sign some papers that were in English. Even as more such startling facts came up, I became more and more stubborn about making this film 

For the actors playing the key roles, like Anirban Bhattacharya who plays Dhananjoy and Mimi Chakraborty who plays his counsel, an added challenge was to essay roles that have absolutely no reference point.

There were no “human” stories of Dhananjoy or his fight for justice. His popular image was that of a rapist and murderer and nothing else.
Mimi and Anirban in the movie ‘Dhananjoy’
Mimi and Anirban in the movie ‘Dhananjoy’
(Photo courtesy: Dhananjoy Facebook Page)
There was nothing extraordinary about this man. Absolutely nothing. All he cared for since the day he was put in jail was when he would get out. He never displayed any emotion except for the pall of gloom on his face when he was informed that his last hope – his mercy plea before the President – has been turned down and a brief hint of a smile on his lips when his informant added he would be the last to be executed in this state
Anirban Bhattacharya, Actor playing Dhananjoy to News 18

Mimi says that this was the first time that she put a real part of herself in her character. It is widely believed that it is poor defence that cost Dhananjoy his life. So that makes the role even tougher. “I developed the character across the storyboard while talking to the director. But I would add that unlike most of my roles in other films, I put a part of the real me into this character. It is my own emotional response to what happened all those years ago,” Mimi told News 18.

From ‘Talvar’ to ‘Dhananjoy’ – Are Movies Opening Old Case Files?

The movie Talvar restarted a discussion on the Noida double murder case which had fallen out of headlines for years. It once more raised questions on police inaction, procedural errors in investigation and of course the character assassination that two dead people – with no means to defend themselves – had to face. Dhananjoy seems to be going down the same path.

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
Arindam Sil to the Scroll

“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”, he added.

Hetal’s family has been off the radar for years now and has not made any comments on the movie. According to reports, they moved to Mumbai where her father passed away and her mother is said to be mentally ill. Her brother is married and lives with his family. The filmmakers say that they could not reach Hetal’s family, but Dhananjoy continues to be ridiculed to this day. Their neighbours in Kuludihi village in Bankura district of West Bengal have even accused the family of taking money for the movie.

Sil claims that unlike Talvar, his movie is based purely out of the courtroom and will show the viewers the popular narrative as well as Dhananjoy’s version. He says the audience can then choose what they want to believe.

The question, though, isn’t really about the viewers feeling sympathetic towards Dhananjoy. Scholars from the Indian Statistical Institute in Kolkata have published research works stating the excesses committed by the state, media and police during the Dhananjoy case. In fact, since 2005, newer evidence have come to fore to suggest that Dhananjoy might have been framed. If the movie manages to create a new narrative around Dhananjoy by bringing these evidence to light, it would mean that justice was delayed and denied not just for Dhananjoy but also for Hetal Parekh and the two families that are distraught with an ordeal that started 27 years ago.

(We all love to express ourselves, but how often do we do it in our mother tongue? Here's your chance! This Independence Day, khul ke bol with BOL – Love your Bhasha. Sing, write, perform, spew poetry – whatever you like – in your mother tongue. Send us your BOL at bol@thequint.com or WhatsApp it to 9910181818.)

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