(The Newsroom, a weekly column by Sonia Singh, NDTV's Editorial Director, focuses on the big news stories, how we covered them and why)
I want to shout this from the rooftops. Nupur Talwar cried; in fact, she cried copiously! Her mistake - she did it off camera; my mistake - I didn't keep the cameras rolling to record what I felt was a private moment of heartbreak.
Let me rewind to seven years ago. Nupur, currently in an Uttar Pradesh Jail, convicted of the murder of her daughter Aarushi, gave me an interview on NDTV in May, the morning after her husband Rajesh Talwar had been arrested by the Noida police, barely a week after Aarushi had been killed.
At the time, the coverage of the mysterious murders, a young girl found dead in her bedroom, the cook found two days later dead on the terrace, had gripped Indian television in a way no other crime had. Wild rumours, theories, plants by the police were discussed every night as fact. These ranged from so-called wife swapping parties thrown by the dentist couple to 14-year-old Aarushi having an affair with the middle-aged cook (yes, honour killing was the reason given by one senior police officer). Not one of these theories was backed by any evidence at all. Yet this inability to distinguish fact from fiction went on to become a hallmark of the investigations that followed.
I had never met the Talwars but was anchoring a daily show at the time Aarushi and Hemraj were murdered, where I had discussed the farce this tragedy had become.The dramatic events peaked the night Rajesh Talwar was arrested for murder. His wife, Nupur, was not arrested. Early the next morning, I was surprised to get a call from a friend of the Talwars asking if I wanted to interview Nupur. So far, both parents had remained steadfastly silent. "Yes, I would", I said, "but why this sudden decision?" "We felt the media narrative so far has been completely hijacked by one side," the friend replied, "so we'd like to speak to you. There's only one problem - there's a media stakeout outside the house but we will try to get her to your studio somehow."
I reached the office within the next 15 minutes. Nupur took much longer. When she arrived with her relatives, they were all completely shaken. "We've just gone through a harrowing 20-minute car chase" they said, "with crews from other media houses actually trying to ram into our car because they had heard we were going to the NDTV studio to give an interview." At one point, they thought they would call the police but realized it would be of little help. Nupur didn't say a word but was literally shaking as she sat down. I couldn't think of what to say to a woman who had lost everything in one week.
We began the interview, the cameras came on. At this time, Nupur just seemed completely numb, in her initial answers she seemed almost zombie-like, talking about a life which didn't exist now. She flared up briefly, when I asked her about the allegations against Rajesh and their family. "Sonia, I was there with Aarushi" she told me, "I was the one who got her home. We were together. We ate dinner as a family. We talked as a family, we watched television as a family and we went to sleep. I mean, just like any other family, like any other household. We have work to do next day; there is school the next day. And you just go off to sleep and that's the end of the day..... I have been in that house. I was living in that house. I was sleeping next to Rajesh that night and I mean is such a thing possible? Do you think any mother could sit through the house or sit there and sleep through that night and you know, just not be aware of such a thing. If my husband was to do it, I mean it's beyond anyone's imagination, I mean there are so many people out there, mothers out there, can you ever think, can any mother think its possible?"
What came through to me while I was interviewing her was unimaginable grief and trauma. It was one of the most difficult interviews I have ever done because of the pain I felt my subject was in. The interview ended, she got up, went to a corner of the studio, and broke down. She cried and cried. My director, the camera crews were on standby. We could have recorded her breakdown. We didn't. It seemed intrusive and unnecessary.
As soon as the interview aired, reactions poured in. From people whose opinion I valued and trusted, the verdict was one of the great dignity and strength with which Nupur had faced the situation. Yet, I had complete strangers coming up to me with views like "What kind of mother doesn't cry, kuch unnatural tha." At this time, there was no question of Nupur being a suspect in Aarushi's murder, the focus was on Rajesh Talwar.
The case went on to become stranger and stranger. It was handed over to the CBI who held a press conference to declare three domestic helps guilty but couldn't support this in court. The team changed, suddenly the theory changed. I received a call again from the Talwars. "Can we meet you?" I went to their dental clinic in Hauz Khas, where there was again a full waiting room of patients who had stayed loyal to their dentist. "Why is the CBI closing the investigation?" Rajesh Talwar asked me. "The director is avoiding our calls. I have heard the case will be closed. This is injustice to our daughter. Should I hire a private investigator? Should I send the fingerprint on the whisky bottle abroad for analysis? Why isn't the media taking this up. We are meeting top lawyers to make sure the CBI doesn't brush this under the carpet."
The questions came thick and fast from a father who wanted answers, who wanted justice. Little did anyone suspect at that time that a court would some years later go on to convict both parents in the murder, with not one piece of concrete evidence.
Why I ask myself now, why if they were guilty, would they want the CBI to continue their investigations, why didn't they just let it go into the CBI archives as another unsolved mystery?
What eventually happened is now the subject of a book and a film which released this week. Both of these point to the many, many loopholes in the investigation and the verdict. After interviewing the real life Talwars, this week it seemed to have come full circle when I interviewed the crew of the film Talvar: Meghna Gulzar, the director, Vishaal Bhardwaj, the script writer, Irffan Khan who plays the investigator and Konkana Sen who plays Nupur Talwar.
From Shakespeare to crime in a Noida suburb, I asked Vishaal. "It's bigger than a Shakespearean tragedy," he replied, "but there's also another point. Look at the lifestyle difference between Bombay and Delhi, and a person in Etawah or a small town. During the interrogation, when the mother says that she was supposed to go for a sleepover to a friend's place - so that becomes an issue with the police...that what do you mean by the sleepover, you say the friends, they stay in a house, which is very common in our metros now. So, they ask what do they do without parents when they sleep... so these kind of things when they come up actually tells you the class divide or the divide of life, the kind of lifestyles we have in one country." He'd hit the nail on the head. Nupur had told me at one point how much she regretted moving to their Noida flat. It was all we could afford at that time she said and it was so conveniently located, virtually a part of Delhi. Yet, this meant when the murders happened, it became a UP police issue, UP cops asked them salacious questions on Aarushi, her friends, her SMSes; the initial investigation was completely botched. Later it was heard in a UP special court and is now pending in the Allahabad High court. Here, appeals are still on the waiting list since the 1980s. Rajesh and Nupur are now part of that queue with no prospect of an immediate hearing.
I asked Konkana how difficult it was to play Nupur in the movie. "I watched your interview with Nupur many times," Konkana told me. "Meghna and I were just discussing that she is not how women are depicted. This is not how we see women in the media. Whether it is films or you know television stories and things like that. Firstly, we rarely really see an older woman, and such complex emotions in a realistic way portrayed. You know, so she's not conforming to various conventions, which is then difficult for people to accept." Was that it, I wondered, Nupur Talwar didn't conform to a Bollywood image of a grieving mother so she was judged. Judged at all stages, even in the final court decision.
That's why I had to put the record straight in this column. Yes, Nupur did cry. Now, can we change our verdict of her?