They were diametrically opposite in nature but were bosom friends since they were kids. Raj, the more outgoing of the two, ruggedly handsome and a sports star, he attracted a lot of attention and jealousy alike. Sanjay on the other hand was of the studious kind and an introvert. Sanjay loved his friend and didn’t mind being sidelined as the spotlight remained constantly focused on his friend except during the time examination results were declared and Sanjay being the class topper enjoyed his brief time in sun.
Time passed. Boys became men but the friendship between then remained the same. Both of them went to study law at Delhi university and upon return to their home state of Goa, Raj took over the fashion magazine division of their family business Kapoor Media Ventures Pvt. Ltd. which published “La Mode” a monthly featuring news from the fashion world around the globe the first and the only one of its kind magazine in the country (The company also published a daily called “Morning Dew” which was run by Rehan, Raj’s elder brother) as Raj’s father decided to retire from his hectic business life. Sanjay too like his friend joined his family profession, his father’s law firm.
Now Raj otherwise a good guy in all respects suffered from a major personality flaw. Although it was a single flaw but it was a major as this one weakness of man has destroyed many empires during ancient times and even to this day continues to ruin careers and lives of famous and powerful men. The weakness: Woman. Raj loved women and that’s one of the reason he took over “La Mode” so that he could around pretty, young things and occasionally try & charm them out of their pants. This was the one thing about Raj that Sanjay hated. As Raj’s trysts with models became a hot topic of gossip in society circles Sanjay decided to try and talk him out of it before it led to something untoward.
“Look Raj you are the scion of one of the largest media houses in the country. You will be under constant scrutiny and so it is your responsibility to hold yourself to highest standards of conduct. There are some lines you must never cross, NEVER.”
“Wait. Are you talking about one of my trips to the nether lands?” asked Raj trying to maintain a serious face.
“If by “trip to nether lands” you mean defiling innocent, young girls, then yes that’s exactly what I am talking about.” retorted Sanjay trying to keep the frustration of his friend making light of a serious situation out of his voice.
But Raj was indifferent to his friend’s advice. “Relax man. No lines are being crossed here. I am attracted to their beauty and they are seduced by my power. It’s just a mutual admiration club enjoying each other’s company. Also I tell them beforehand not to expect anything from me. I say if you want to have good times, I am your man but if you are looking for something more deep and meaningful, look elsewhere. So you see its just harmless fun and nothing else. I don’t see a reason for anything to go wrong here.”
“The problem with these cases is you can never predict when things start to fall apart. Anyway I give up. It’s your life. I just felt it was my duty as your well-wisher to warn you & it’s your right to pay heed to my advice.” replied Sanjay. Raj simply patted his friend’s shoulder, flashed his trademark smile and walked away.
But Sanjay wasn’t the one to give up. He didn’t want Raj to throw away his life but his conversation with Raj had proven that trying to tell him off was of no avail & he had to look for some other way. So he decided to take up the issue with his father. Mr. Kapoor a shrewd business mind would surely understand the implications of Raj’s actions on the business and take steps to end Raj’s romps once and for all. With this in mind he met up with Mr. Kapoor and informed him about his younger son’s misadventures. The Kapoor family patriarch looked worried upon hearing the news and took his time before speaking, “Thanks for bringing this to my attention young man. I don’t know what that idiot son of mine seems to be thinking. But don’t you worry anymore. I’ll take care of this. Consider this issue resolved.”
A couple of days later Raj came to visit Sanjay bearing the news his father had decided to get him married to Maya, daughter Mr. Ajay Kumar, founder & CEO of “One Stop Shop” the largest chain of multi brand retail stores in the state. Sanjay was surprised. He didn’t expect Mr. Kapoor, a modern man in every sense would adapt the most traditional method used by Indian parents to bring their 20 something children in line. He confessed.” I think I think that’s my fault. I suspect me telling you dad about your escapades would have prompted him to take such a decision.”
“Yeah I guessed that much & I must admit I was really mad at you when I first heard the news. That’s why I didn’t inform you right away. But yesterday Maya came to visit us along with her parents and as I saw her all my resentment towards you melted away. She is stunning man. Way hotter than many of my models. I think I will like being married to her. If you know what I mean?” Said Raj giving Sanjay a mischievous wink.
Although Sanjay pretended to be happy at this news in reality this made him worried. Raj was merely marrying the girl because he was physically attracted to her but a marriage was way more than that. He wondered what would happen if the attraction faded with the passage of time or if Raj found someone who he felt was more attractive than Maya. What would Raj do then? But he thought it would be better to keep his worries to himself and tackle the problem if and when it arises.
Barely six months into the marriage Sanjay’s fears manifested itself in the form of Maria Almeida, the stunning half Indian half Portuguese model. “ La Mode” was auditioning for a fresh face to grace the cover of their 10th Anniversary Issue. Raj had insisted that he wanted someone with a fresh and different look from the run of the mill models. Raj was not satisfied with the ones his creative team had chosen and with the deadline fast approaching he decided to matter into his own hands. After one long day of audition Raj & his team were beginning to feel their quest for a fresh face was not going to yield any result and so they were discussing the possibility of bringing in a celebrity instead. That was when Maria walked in. As the girl ushering her announced her arrival Raj looked up and was instantly smitten. He stood up in his place and declared,” She’s the one.” As the other team members looked at him with puzzled expressions he clarified, “Guys. We found the cover face for the Anniversary Issue.”
“But we didn’t even go through her profile…”one of the team members started to argue.
“Listen I run this magazine & if I say she’s the cover girl SHE’S THE COVER GIRL. Is that clear?”
“And 1 more thing I want an interview of her to go along with the cover. Make sure that one of you guys take her interview tomorrow. Today we will be discussing the contract terms over dinner.” Said Raj as he stepped forward to usher Maria out of the audition room.
As the duo left the team member whose argument was shot down by Raj said “Looks like Miss Almeida has caught boss’s fancy.”
“Can you blame him though? I have never seen a prettier woman in my life.” quipped another as the rest of the team nodded their heads in agreement.
Soon the 10th anniversary issue was in circulation and Maria’s exotic looks transformed her from a virtual unknown to a mini celebrity. From ad companies chasing her to model their products to her appearance in a music video of a popular Punjabi rapper she had made a huge splash in the ocean of fame. With fame came the intense media scrutiny of her private life and it was just a matter of time before media caught a scent of her “ close friendship” with Mr. Raj Kapoor, the married owner of “La Mode” the magazine which brought her into public eye. Scandalous gossips about the nature of their relationship along with the photos of them being spotted together became regular page three news items.
Now Maya who had earlier dismissed the reports as trashy gossip started to wonder if there was any truth in them. After all there is no smoke without fire.
She initially thought she would confront Raj with her suspicions but soon realized that it would be a futile exercise as Raj would never admit to it. As she was sitting trying to figure out a way to get to the bottom of things when the doorbell rang. It was Sanjay.
“Hi Maya. Is Raj home?”
“No he’s out.”
“But today’s Sunday.”
“Yeah he has gone on a business trip & will be back in a day or two. Didn’t he tell you?”
“No. Actually I too had gone to Mumbai on a business trip of my own. I returned yesterday. I had something to discuss with Raj. I figured today being Sunday he would be home.”
“He’s rarely home nowadays, Sanjay. On weekdays it will be past midnight when he returns home from work. On weekends he would out on pretext of some business trip. It’s like he doesn’t want to come home anywhere.”
“Oh. I am sure it’s nothing Maya. He runs a company and that requires hard work & long hours.”
“He was running the company even when we got married Sanjay but this late coming started since a past couple of months. Since he met her.
Her? Who? You mean Maria.”
“Of course I mean Maria. Do you think I am an idiot? Or I am so ignorant that I am not aware of the biggest story trending in media for last few weeks.”
“No. I just……”
“Stop beating around the bush Sanjay. Look into my eyes and tell me what the hell is going on between my husband and that bitch?' Maya's patience was at its lowest ebb and she was ready to burst.
Sanjay knew that she was serious. 'Look, Maya. There is nothing going on between the two of them. Just a little bit of healthy flirting, I'd say.'
'Flirting? Healthy flirting? Really Sanjay . . .' she rolled her eyes in disgust. 'That's what you men call it? There is nothing healthy about flirting, Sanjay, not for a married man. Healthy flirting is a term introduced by perverted men who want to lend legitimacy to their extramarital dalliances. Flirting invariably has a sexual connotation to it.' She got up from her seat and walked around the room gesticulating and muttering something to herself. Suddenly she stopped, turned back, looked at Sanjay and asked, 'Did my husband sleep with her? You are his friend. Did he ever tell you anything about it?'
Actually he had. Sanjay had called up Raj a few days ago and confronted him about the news stories and he had admitted of having an affair with Maria. That’s the thing he wanted to discuss with him today. Unable to find a suitable reply to Maya’s question Sanjay lowered his eyes. One look at her husband’s friend’s face confirmed Maya’s worst fears.
Two days later returned Raj to find his house mobbed with news vans. He asked his driver to stop the car so that he could take stock of the situation from a distance. From there what he saw left him stunned. It was Maya. She was holding a press conference. He asked the driver to go & have a closer look at the proceedings. “Once there I’ll call & you put the phone in speaker so I can listen to whatever she’s saying.” He instructed.
Maya announced in the press conference that she was traumatized by the news of her husband’s affair with Maria and she couldn’t no longer bear staying under the same in the roof as him and hence had decided to split up. Raj was shocked but the news reporters were loving every bit of this. Till now their stories about this affair were mostly based on speculation but this press conference had lent legitimacy to all of it.
But the media Gods had not stopped showering gifts. A month after the after the very public divorce of Raj & Maya, Maya disappeared. Now disappearance of an up and coming starlet alone is big news story but this disappearance was made even bigger due to its link with the earlier scandal. Raj’s company filed a missing persons report as Maria had no family to speak of. (She was an orphan who was raised by her very conservative uncle & aunt who had cut off ties with her the moment she had announced that she had chosen modelling as her career.) With media piling pressure on them, the Goan police were desperate to find at least a shred of evidence of her whereabouts when the hit the mother lode. In an old junkyard on the outskirts of the city they found one of Maria’s cars. Upon closer inspection they found blood stains & hair strands. DNA analysis was done & it was determined that bloodstains belonged to Maria & hair strands were of Raj & Maria. Although Maria’s body was not found despite a massive search of the surrounding area. The circumstantial evidence was enough to issue a non bailable arrest warrant against Raj. On a Monday morning around a month after Maria’s vanishing Raj was arrested and charged with her murder. Mr. Kapoor, Raj’s father stepped into protect the institution he had built through years of blood, sweat & tears from being destroyed by the actions of his wayward son. He held a press conference announcing in no uncertain terms that he no longer considered Raj to be a part of his family & he should be given the max. punishment possible if found guilty. He also announced that his elder son Rehan would be talking over “La Mode”. With even his family members turning his back against him Raj was left with only person had faith in him, his lawyer and best friend, Sanjay.
In his first visit of his friend in jail, Sanjay saw Raj and from his red eyes he could understand that he had been crying.
“I know Sanjay that I am not the greatest person in the world & have crossed the line of morality many a time but I am not a killer.”
“I know that Raj. But you see the chain of events, your affair with Maria, followed by your very public divorce along with yours and Maria’s DNA found in her car. This is already more than substantial evidence & with the electronic media portraying you as the murderer every night at their 9’o clock debates there is very little chance that a judge would dare to go against the popular opinion.”
“Wait let me get this straight. What you are basically trying to say is I am damned?”
“Not necessarily. We have 2 months before the trial begins. You didn’t kill Maria. That leaves us with two possibilities. Either someone else killed her or she is very much alive. Let see the first possibility if someone killed her then who. As far as I know there are only 2 persons with motive. One is you, the other one is Maya. But Maya was free from net of suspicion because ten days before Maria disappeared she left for Maldives. But with the tidy divorce settlement she got she could have paid someone off to do the dirty work for her. Really it is so straightforward that I am surprised no one thought of this before. Now the second scenario is Maria is very much alive. This is bolstered by the fact her body was never found.”
“But the blood stains in the car matched her DNA.”
“Yes but the quantity of the blood was very little. It could have been planted there like your hair.”
“But I don’t think my hair was planted there. It was Maria’s car right? “
“We had you know….hooked up many times in her car.”
“But the question is why would she disappear and implicate me for it.”
“That’s the question the answer to which I have to find before the trial. Oh I better get going then. Have lots of work to do. I am friends with some private detectives. I’ll try and enlist their help. Hang in there my friend. I’ll get you out.” Promised Sanjay as he got up to leave.
Fast forward 2 months to the day of trial. The Sessions court at Panjim was all set to try its most high profile case in recent memory. The vultures of the news world had also descended and taken their place outside the court house. As Raj’s guilt in their eyes was a foregone conclusion, the topic of discussion was the quantum of punishment that would be handed out with most of them betting for life sentence. Another hot topic was the absence of the members of Kapoor family from the courtroom. Inside the courthouse Raj was a wreck but Sanjay appeared calm & relaxed. Just before the trial Sanjay placed a reassuring hand on his friend shoulder & whispered in his ears “Everything’s gonna be alright.”
Just then the judge walked in & after the customary court formalities. The judge asked, “In case number 105, Mr. Raj Kapoor v/s State of Goa. How will the defendant like to plea?”
“Not guilty, your honor.” answered Sanjay, his voice brimming with confidence.
The prosecution was the first to present their case.
“Your honor, the prosecution would like to call upon its first witness
After the witness took his stand the lawyer asked, “How did you know Mr. Raj, here?”
“I work in the writing team of “La Mode” the fashion magazine headed by Mr. Kapoor.”
“Oh good. How would you describe him?”
“Very nice, warm & friendly.”
“How was he with ladies?”
“He was extra nice with them especially the models.”
“Is it true that he used to sleep with them?”
“Yeah. It was an open secret in the company.”
“Ok. Thanks” said the prosecuting lawyer as his took his seat. The judge asked if the defense wanted to question the witness. Sanjay declined.
The witness was asked to leave the stand & the prosecution lawyer took stage again.
“The first witness bears testimony to the fact that defendant was of loose moral character who used his position of authority to exploit women under him & satisfy his immoral urges. In fact in researching the case I found out from his father that he made him get married as he hoped it’ll curb his habit. But unfortunately it didn’t. Barely few months after his marriage he started an affair with our victim, another young & aspiring model. This affair gained much publicity in the press & electronic media & led to his wife divorcing him taking along with her 50% of his assets. This led him having a falling out with our victim and in fit of rage he killed her. Although the defendant managed to successfully hide or dispose off the body but he committed a mistake by leaving the victim’s car in a junkyard. The car contained as DNA evidence shows us victim’s blood stains & Mr. Raj’s & victim’s hair strands conclusively proving that Raj killed our victim. This crime along with his earlier immoral actions & the fact that he holds or at least held a position of power at the time this crimes were perpetrated requires that the defendant be given the maximum punishment possible. The prosecution rests its case.”
Next it was term of Sanjay to take control of the proceedings.
“Yeah honor, I concur with all the charges that the prosecution has put on my client except the only change that really matters that of the murder. Now as far as the charges of immoral conduct go yes my client is guilty of that & for that he has been punished as his wife left him, took 50% of his assets as she left, his father took whatever was left & handed it to his brother & he had to spend 2 months in a jail cell. I think that is enough punishment. Now coming to changes of murder the fact that prosecution hinges its case on my clients’ colorful character & the DNA evidence found in the Maria’s abandoned car is weak & laughable because it is ridiculous to assume that a guy who could dispose of a body, as prosecution suggested Raj did, couldn’t do the same to a car. I have known Raj since childhood. I know he doesn’t have it in him to kill a person. So I took a look on the only other character in the story who had motive to kill Maria, Maya, whose marriage was destroyed by the affair. She remained out eye of suspicion as she left for Maldives before Maria disappeared. But with her divorce proceeds she could hire anyone to kill Maria and being out of town at the time of murder could provide her with the perfect alibi. Another possibility is Maria is very much alive & well as her body wasn’t found. So I started a two pronged investigation. One of my associates took a team to Maldives to search for Maya. And I along with a team of sleuths started digging up Maria’s past to find any clues of her whereabouts. Then one fine day I caught a big break. I visited Pune where she stayed during her college years & guess who her was roommate there?, it was Maya. A little more digging bought into my knowledge that Maria & Maya were not only roommates but also lovers. This came to attention of Mr. Ajay Kumar, one of the state’s prominent business tycoons & Maya’s father. Fearing that the news of his daughter being in relationship with another woman would destroy his reputation he made her drop college & took her back home. That was when it became news in high society that Mr. Kapoor was looking for a bride for his son. Maya & Maria though separated but still in touch thanks to modern technology, hatched a plot. Maya was to get married with Raj, a moneybag playboy & later Maria would drop in & seduce him. Maya would then announce her divorce & with proceeds of the divorce settlement they would run off and start a new lives. But one thing they hadn’t counted upon is Maria’s rise to fame. So they had to improvise Maria’s disappearing act. That’s how they decided to fake her death and frame Raj the only person other than Maya herself with motive for killing her.”
“Hold on a second.” The judge intervened “As I understand you got to know about Maya & Maria’s relationship as a result of your investigation. But what I don’t get is how you got the intimate details of their plan.”
“I got it straight from the horse’s mouth your honor. My associates in Maldives informed me that they had seen two women fitting the description of Maya & Maria living in a beach resort. I boarded the next available flight to Maldives, went down to the resort, confronted them and after making them aware of the kind of mess their vanishing act has caused back home and the gravity of charges Raj was facing due to their frame up and informing them that even if they indict themselves in the process they can’t be arrested as long as they stay in Maldives due to non-extradition treaty between India & Maldives, was finally able to get them to talk. That’s when they told me about their plan.” As he said these words he motioned to one of his team members who switched on the projector. The faces of Maya & Maria appeared on screen via Skype to the collective gasps of everyone present in the courtroom.
“Hello everyone.” said both the ladies in unison & then Maya spoke, “We are sorry for what we did but this was the only way we could think of. We didn’t realize the kind of mess we had left in our wake especially for Raj till Sanjay told us. Raj I hope you find it in your heart to forgive us.” The ladies then answered a few questions raised by the prosecution and the judge before the court was recessed.
As they reassembled the judge gave his verdict. “As the video link via Skype has established beyond any reasonable doubt that Maria is very much alive, the court declares all changes against Raj to be dismissed.” Raj breathed a sigh of relief as Sanjay gave him pat to his back.
As they were driving back Sanjay asked his friend, “Now what friend. Any plans to take back the business from your brother?”
“No I am done with the fashion magazine business. Too much temptation in there for me. I am thinking of joining your firm. With your blessings of course.”
“That’s a good idea. But one thing if you want to join me I have just one condition no flirting & absolutely no affairs.”
“Believe me mate. I am done with women. I have had enough of them for a lifetime.” quipped Raj as the car filled with the two’s friends’ laughter.
A young married owner of a fashion magazine falls for a beautiful model annd then all hell breaks loose......