The boy-next-door-look coupled with a conventional model’s body gave him some of his modeling contracts and also landed him a Bollywood flick with acclaimed Indian actors, Rahul Bose and Sanjay Suri. What’s more, the movie turned out to be a hit. We have neither forgotten Jhankar Beats , nor Shayan Munshi, the unsure lover boy, but he is remembered far less for the part he played in the movie than the role he played in the Jessica Lall case. In the movie he was one of the heroes, whereas in the Jessica Lall case, a meek, cowardly and selfish person, who could not stand by his friend in the hour of her greatest need, and, worse still, lied to the court more than once to help out the perpetrators of a heinous crime get away with murder.
Munshi was just another model looking to make it big in show business. He was certainly noticed as Neel in Jhankar Beats , and did reasonably well in movies like My Brother Nikhil . However, he was never seen as an able actor though he could emote a bit in the roles that suited his persona and looks. Unfortunately, before he could be noted for the right reasons, he was noted for the wrong reasons and then abhorred for the reasons he himself supplied.
When Jessica Lall was shot dead, Shayan, being the fellow celebrity bartender at the late-night party, was standing right next to her and from where he stood it was not possible for him to not have a clear view of her killer. So, he was one of the three pivotal eyewitnesses whose testimonies were central to prosecution’s case against Manu Sharma, son of a powerful politician.
He narrated to the police as to how Jessica was shot and also signed the statement carrying the truth. According to the police, the statement was read out to Munshi, was understood by him and was thereafter signed by the actor. In the court, however, Munshi had a different story to tell, according to which Sharma drew the weapon and assassinated the ceiling while someone else shot Jessica, and Mr. Munshi had no idea of the hand that held the guilty gun. And he did not know Hindi; so, there was no question of his comprehending what the police wrote for his statement and had him sign.
One of the other two eyewitnesses was an electrician at the Tamarind Court, who had seen Sharma shoot Jessica and stated so in his statement to the police, but in the court he went on the terrace and did not see the murder. The third eyewitness was Karan Rajput, who, as per his testimony to the police, saw her being killed by Sharma, but in the court he was out of town on the day. So, the prosecution’s case went down flat with a faint thud. And the nation began simmering with a deep sense of injustice. The son of a powerful and influential politician had gotten away with a heinous crime, again. And, again, for the same reasons – lack of evidence.
The Editor-in-Chief of Tehelka , Tarun J. Tejpal, was one of those who were appalled at the acquittal, and he was the one who wrote the simply worded SMS asking people to assemble at India Gate in solidarity for the cause of justice in Jessica Lall case. The SMS was intentionally kept anonymous to prevent the impression of its being a media-led exercise. Over 2500 chose to stand up for Jessica at India Gate.
Tehelka initiated an investigative sting operation to get to the bottom of the witnesses’ turning hostile. Shayan Munshi was unique and more important than two other witnesses of murder because while the other two denied being witness to the incident, Munshi not only stated that he was present, but also said that Manu Sharma shot in the air and someone else shot Jessica. He thus supported the defense’s two-weapon story that hardly had any real takers.
Tehelka then conducted a sting operation to unearth the truth. And when Mr. Munshi was contacted on the pretext of considering him for a role in an Indo-Australian, bilingual ‘crossover’ movie, he not only agreed to meet the white filmmaker by the name ‘Olivia’, but also started talking in fluent and flowery Hindi to prove that he was good enough for the role. He also delivered a short lecture on different dialects of Hindi spoken across the country and where what is called what in Hindi in Mumbai, Delhi and other parts of the country. He was on camera displaying an enviable understanding of the language he ‘did not know’ in the courtroom despite having acted in more than one Hindi movie. For the movies, according to him, his dialogues were written in Roman script and he simply learnt and spoke. But here, there was no script.
When asked about Jessica’s death, he remarked that everyone knew who killed her, and ‘they’ were ‘powerful’ people. He also queried, “Everyone knows who did it, so why are they beating around the bush?” Interestingly, Mr. Munshi conveniently and shamelessly ignored and denied the undeniable fact that it was him who did not do what he was supposed to do while ‘they’ did their part howsoever inadequately.
Manu Sharma was finally convicted, and Shayan Munshi is one of the witnesses in the Jessica Lall case who might be tried for perjury and it seems the judiciary is quite serious about it this time.
Originally written for and published in LAWYERS UPDATE as a part of ‘THE LAW AND THE CELEBRITIES‘ series in May 2011.