Bollywood relives Jessica Lall murder that transfixed India

MUMBAI Wed Jan 5, 2011 5:52pm IST

Bollywood actress Rani Mukherjee attends a news conference to promote her new film ''No One Killed Jessica'' in December 20, 2010. The film is scheduled to be released January 7, 2011. REUTERS/Amit Dave/Files

Bollywood actress Rani Mukherjee attends a news conference to promote her new film ''No One Killed Jessica'' in December 20, 2010. The film is scheduled to be released January 7, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Amit Dave/Files

MUMBAI (Reuters Life!) - A Bollywood film opening this week will relive a landmark murder trial involving a powerful politician's son who killed a model for refusing him a drink, a case that was seen as a test of Indian judiciary's impartiality.

"No One Killed Jessica" is based on the murder of Jessica Lall and the fight to bring to justice the son of an influential member of India's ruling Congress party.

Lall, 34, was tending the bar at an exclusive party in New Delhi when she was shot dead by Manu Sharma in 1999, apparently for refusing to serve him a drink after the bar had closed.

Now, more than a decade after the incident, Bollywood is ready to re-tell the story.

"My film is about the 10 percent of India which is good, as opposed to the 90 percent which is bad and that we crib about every day," director Raj Kumar Gupta told Reuters.

Gupta said his film, opening on Friday, was about the efforts of Lall's sister, Sabrina, after witnesses in the case turned hostile and powerful influences appeared to subvert justice.

The film opens at a time when India is going through what the country's media has called a "season of scams" after a slew of corruption cases broke out, including an alleged $39 billion fraud in alloting telecom spectrums to private firms.

Gupta said he was hoping to cash in on a popular sentiment against corruption and misuse of power.

"You never know what touches a raw nerve in this country," Gupta said. "But this (Lall) case really showed that there is so much power that the educated middle class wields, if only they would harness it."

Sharma was initially acquitted, sparking protests from the public and media who saw that verdict as evidence that the rich and powerful were beyond the reach of justice.

There were widespread text message and email campaigns for the case to be re-opened, with one TV news station delivering a petition to the president signed by more than 200,000 people.

A retrial was ordered and the Supreme Court convicted Sharma last year and sentenced him to life in jail.

Actors Vidya Balan as Sabrina and Rani Mukherjee as a news reporter who takes a special interest in the case are the leads in the thriller, which Gupta said chronicled a new face of Indian social activism.

For an industry where mushy melodramas are a staple, gritty real-life events have often proved unpopular celluloid fodder. But Gupta said he was hoping that would change.

"We have so many stories worth telling in our country, and I think we are getting inspired now," he said.

(Writing by Krittivas Mukherjee; Editing by Nick Macfie)

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