LEADING FILM actress Manisha Koirala was murdered on Monday. At least that is what Bombayites believed for the greater part of the day after an afternoon paper ran a story on its front page giving sketchy details of the alleged incident.
Even as thousands of Bombayites read with horror that the beautiful actress had been “bludgeoned” to death, newspaper offices were flooded with calls. “Is she dead? She was so young. So good looking. What is happening to Bombay city?” wailed Pinaki Chatterjee a marketing executive on Monday morning to The Pioneer. The ever-sensitive Bombay stock market went abuzz with rumours and tension gripped some sensitive area of Bombay in anticipation of trouble.
At this untimely juncture, all of Bombay suffered a power breakdown. Trains stopped at various points leaving thousands of commuters stranded and adding to the chaos and helping fuel further rumours. Even Nariman Point, the business center of the city went without power for a couple of hours.
Close on the heels of “death threat” calls that Ms Koirala was alleged to have received only last Sunday, the rumours seemed credible enough.
And Bombayites began to fear yet another round of riots following her alleged murder because of her role in the film Bombay. The fact that a bomb attack had been recently perpetrated on the film’s director Mani Rathnam in Madras also lent credence to the rumour.
As it turned out later, it was all a mistake.
The Afternoon Dispatch & Courier on Monday with an interjection “Stop Press” ran a six-paragraph story on its front page, which claimed that Ms Koirala had been murdered in “broad daylight” at her residence. The paper went on to say that the “post-mortem” had revealed, “a heavy iron rod had been used for the gruesome murder”.
The story further claimed that the police had filed a first information report under Section 302 of the Indian Penal Code and added “top police officials had rushed to Koirala’s residence on receiving the shocking news”
The story then went on to reveal, “exit points had been sealed and special dog squad had been pressed into service”
Interestingly towards the end of the story, the report added, “Mahesh Bhatt’s forthcoming film criminal, which was to be released on August 4, would be the last film of Manisha Koirala. The paper also added that the police officials had set a self-imposed deadline of August 4 for “removing the mask of the criminal”.
Strangely enough, The Afternoon Dispatch and Courier failed to mention anywhere in the report that the news item was only a publicity stunt for Manisha Koirala’s yet-to-be-released film, Criminal.
Later in the evening, confirming that the news item which was carried at the bottom of Afternoon paper was an advertisement, Mr. Mark Manuel, a senior reporter in the paper added that the word “Advt”, meaning advertisement, had dropped off inadvertently and by the time the mistake had been released, thousands of copies had been printed.
“We were flooded with hundreds of calls. The police commissioner asked for clarifications. We are carrying a front page apology tomorrow”, added Mr. Manuel.
However, Manisha’s father Prakash Koirala said that the family was embrassed on hearing about the news item.
“We were taken aback and were very upset as no prior permission was taken from us for the advertisement,” he added.
The family had been receiving frantic calls from Nepal, Madras, Delhi and Bombay, inquiring about the veracity of the news item. Mr. Prakash said, “It’s very difficult to take legal action in the matter as Manisha is a foreign national staying in the city for the last five years. We will have to consult a lawyer.”
A late night report said a case was filed by the police against Mahesh Bhatt, Mukesh Bhatt and some newspapers for publishing the advertisement.
By Ketan Tanna