Mumbai: In tales of the Mumbai underworld of the 1990s, one incident has always been cited as defining the relationship between the city’s glitzy Bollywood industry and its gang lords. This was the cold-blooded, daylight murder of T-Series music label founder and film producer Gulshan Kumar.
Last week, the Bombay High Court brought some closure to the 24-year-old case when it upheld the life imprisonment handed down to Abdul Rauf Dawood Merchant, a henchman of gangster Dawood Ibrahim, and sentenced his brother Abdul Rashid to life imprisonment for killing Kumar, managing director of Super Cassettes Industries, which owns the music label.
The case is akin to a Bollywood potboiler, involving professional rivalry, a conspiracy with gangster Abu Salem, and threat calls to Kumar, known as ‘Cassette King’, before killing him altogether.
The Mumbai Police had in 1997 filed a 400-page chargesheet saying the plot to kill Kumar had been hatched in the office of Anees, Dawood Ibrahim’s brother, in Dubai.
The police went on to arrest 19 persons in the murder and the prosecution examined 45 witnesses. In 2002, a Mumbai sessions court acquitted all accused, including Rashid. Only Rauf was convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment.
The Bombay HC Thursday dismissed Rauf’s appeal challenging his conviction and convicted Rashid too, saying there were enough eyewitnesses who had identified the two brothers as two of the three assailants who fired on Kumar.
The daylight murder
According to the prosecution, Kumar used to visit a Shiva temple in Mumbai’s western suburb of Andheri every morning and evening. He had sponsored the renovation of the temple in 1976.
On 12 August 1997, Kumar went to the temple in his red Opel car with his driver Rooplal, who later became a prosecution witness, as usual. He prayed for 15 minutes, made his offerings and was attended to, as always, by Ramchandra Lavangare, the president of the Shiv Temple Management Association.
On his way back, just as Kumar was opening the door of his car, a person touched his back with a pistol and fired a volley of bullets. Taken aback, Kumar turned only to receive more bullets on his chest. A second assailant emerged and fired more bullets, and as Kumar struggled to escape, walking a few paces ahead, a third assailant showered him with more bullets.
The music label owner was rushed to the nearby Cooper Hospital, but he was brought dead. Lavangare as well as Rooplal became key prosecution witnesses.
Before his murder, Kumar had received threat calls on 5 August and 9 August 1997, the prosecution said.
By the end of the month, the Mumbai Police had declared Nadeem Saifee from the music composer duo Nadeem-Shravan as a co-conspirator. Nadeem was at that time in London and refused to return.
“The assailants had no personal enmity or grudge against the deceased. They had committed the ghastly act as they were hired by Nadeem Saifee and Abu Salem who wanted to satisfy their personal vendetta against the deceased,” the Bombay HC observed while passing the order Thursday.
Court records say Kishan Kumar Dua, Gulshan Kumar’s younger brother and a director in Super Cassettes Industries, had thrown light on Nadeem’s alleged involvement in the crime as a prosecution witness.
In 1996, Nadeem had produced an audio album, Hi Ajnabee, and wanted Kumar to purchase the audio rights for it, but the latter was reluctant. According to Kishan Kumar Dua, his brother had turned down Nadeem’s offer saying he was not a good singer. Kumar, however, ended up purchasing the audio rights for the album and also shot a music video for its promotion.
“The album was released in the month of March 1997, but was a big failure. Being annoyed by the failure of the sale of the album in the market, Nadeem had confronted the deceased, blamed him for the failure, as he was of the opinion that the deceased had not given due publicity to his album and had threatened him with dire consequences,” the prosecution said, according to the HC order dated 1 July.
The prosecution said Nadeem and gangster Abu Salem had colluded and conspired to kill Kumar. Salem had fled India after the 1993 Mumbai blasts case, but was extradited from Portugal in 2005.
During the trial, Kishan Kumar told the prosecution about two calls from gangster Salem that had rattled his brother.
During the second such call on 9 August 1997, Gulshan Kumar had allegedly explained to Salem that he had given sufficient publicity to Nadeem’s album, and that the only reason it had flopped was because Nadeem’s voice wasn’t good.
According to Kishan Kumar’s testimony, Gulshan also asked why his life should be endangered at the hands of Salem because of Nadeem.
Other witnesses spoke about Nadeem allegedly paying money to Salem to have Kumar murdered.
Nadeem and Salem were shown as absconding accused in the case and the trial against them didn’t proceed.
Ramesh Taurani’s alleged involvement
During its investigation in 1997, the Mumbai Police had also arrested Kumar’s main industry rival, Tips Industries’ owner Ramesh Taurani alleging that he along with Nadeem paid Rs 25 lakh to Kumar’s killers.
The Mumbai sessions court had acquitted Taurani in 2002, but the state government challenged this acquittal in the Bombay High Court, which upheld the trial court’s verdict on Taurani.
On Thursday, the court said, “There are serious lapses in the investigation and there is no cogent and convincing evidence to hold that Taurani has spoken to Abu Salem in Dubai.”
Why news media is in crisis & How you can fix it
India needs free, fair, non-hyphenated and questioning journalism even more as it faces multiple crises.
But the news media is in a crisis of its own. There have been brutal layoffs and pay-cuts. The best of journalism is shrinking, yielding to crude prime-time spectacle.
ThePrint has the finest young reporters, columnists and editors working for it. Sustaining journalism of this quality needs smart and thinking people like you to pay for it. Whether you live in India or overseas, you can do it here.