A Legal Case involving all the elements of a dramatic movie {Rustom (2016) by Tinu Suresh Desai}

Brief of the Movie

Rustom is a much appreciated movie in 2016 but more so, in terms of the storyline it depicts and the significant judgement of the Supreme Court it was based on. The judgement which it was based on was K. M. Nanavati V. State of Maharashtra. The story revolves around a naval officer named Rustom whose wife, Cynthia had illicit relations with Vikram while he was deployed. When he returns, he comes to know of the truth by finding the letters and, later he goes to the Ship to get the pistol. He searches for Vikram and later at the latter’s residence, Vikram is found dead with three gunshots. The story moves towards the court room drama whereby the sister of the deceased moves to get the accused punished while Rustom fights his own case. In the turn of events, Cynthia edges towards Rustom about her aloneness and how she was deceived by Vikram. Further, it leads to the jury trial of 9 people whereby Rustom is pleaded not guilty on the reasoning that it was an act of self-defence and Rustom walks out free with his dignity.

Legal Points

This movie is based on the very important concept of Jury Trial. It also was based on Section 300 which defines murder and two of the exceptions (sudden and grave provocation; and pre-mediated murder) that it entails.

A. Jury Trial

The jury trial is a form of trial whereby a body of people, called the jury, takes an oath to give a decision on the basis of the facts presented before them, the evidences that came and the legal aspect involved in the case. In this instance, this jury is not a legal expert in the matter or is not a judicial officer but are persons of normal parlance and working. Jury trial is based on the fact that jury are people from different societies and frame of work. It represents the mind frame of the common man which is generally used in law. Contrary to what is believed, the jury system still continued even after this case. It was stopped however around 1973, yet it still persists in India in the form of Parsi personal disputes (matrimonial).

The abolition of jury trial in India was seen as a significant requirement. In criminal law itself, where the legality is a bit different and jury can get swayed by sentiments and give wrong decisions. The major reason that the Jury Trial received a backlash was that the people were easily influenced by the things shown in media which led to biasness and prejudice shown in the case by the jury. For instance, in this particular case, Nanavati was highlighted as the naval officer serving for the country and a person of high value. He was shown in patriarchal way as the model husband who suffered because his wife had illicit relations with another man. But the question is does that give him a right to murder someone? Or is this justified murdering another human being? In a country where right to life and liberty is fundamental right, this surely cannot be justified. The issue, here is that through media portrayals and other outlets, it created a bias in the mind of the jury itself which led to holding Nanavati as not guilty and acquitted of all charges walking freely. That was the reason that the Bombay High Court dismissed this decision of the jury trial and moved to bench trial. Nanavati was, then, held guilty of culpable homicide amounting to murder and given life imprisonment, though it was pardoned later after three years.

B. Murder and its Exceptions

Murder is defined under Section 300 of the Indian Penal Code and its punishment is prescribed under Section 302 of the Act. There are different cases and exceptions provided under Section 300. The ingredients of Section 300 are majorly two: firstly, actus reus which is the act done, i.e., death; and secondly, mens rea which is the guilty mind. These two conditions should be satisfied for it to be a murder. Further, it provides other cases as well. It says that, culpable homicide is murder when the death is caused with the intention of it. The second case is where such a bodily injury is caused which the person knows is likely to cause death and it is coupled with the intention to cause such injury. The third case is similar to the bodily injury but such injury is “sufficient in ordinary course to cause death. Lastly, the act that will in all probability cause the death.

The present instance falls under the first case of death with the intention of causing it but the defence pleaded was that of first and fourth exception. The first exception is of grave and sudden provocation. It says that when a person is “deprived of self-control by grave and sudden provocation”, it will be culpable homicide not amounting to murder. Further, the explanation says that this provocation is of such a grave and sudden nature or not is a question of fact. The fourth exception says that when such an event happens in not a premeditated manner but in the heat of the passion upon sudden fight, it is culpable homicide not amounting to murder. Therefore, at this exception, the case evolves.
In the present case, whereby Nanavati took his family (wife and children) to cinema and left them there; then he went to the naval base to complete his duty in the disguise to get his revolver; and then reached Ahuja’s residence. All this shows that it was not a killing that happened on the spur of the moment. Nanavati had time to think about the circumstances from cinema to going to the naval base, completing his duties and finally reaching Ahuja’s house. Thereby, this shows that the exception four is negated because Nanavati did not kill Ahuja in the heat of passion; it was clearly premeditated. Another exception is that of sudden and grave provocation which should arise directly from the person whose death happened and not from a third party. This clearly means that the grave and sudden provocation cannot come from Sylvia, i.e. the wife of Nanavati, when she told him about her illicit relations with Ahuja. Furthermore, the verbal rift that happened Ahuja and Nanavati when he reached former’s house, was it enough to lead to such a provocation because a mere statement cannot be said to be provocation, a test of objectivity is necessary. Moreover, no suddenness could be established because while Nanavati already had revolver with him, therefore he went to his house for full confrontation. No such specific incidence can be shown which led to that amount of suddenness and provocation. That is the reason that the Supreme Court upheld the conviction of Nanavati as culpable homicide amounting to murder.


Arushi Anand
College: Vivekananda Institute of Professional Studies