DUBAI Indian music composer Nadeem Saifi of the famous Nadeem-Shravan duo wants an assurance from Prime Minister Narendra Modi that he won’t be arrested if he returns to face trial in the nearly two-decade old Gulshan Kumar murder case.
The man behind some of Bollywood’s greatest musical hits has been living in self-exile since being named prime suspect in the sensational killing, having successfully avoided extradition following protracted legal battles in UK courts.
Nadeem, who was on a family holiday in the UK when the T-Series music label founder was gunned down outside a temple in a Mumbai suburb in August 1997, has always denied the charges.
“The case against me is totally fabricated. I have been made a scapegoat. Papaji [Gulshan Kumar] was like a brother. I can never think about harming him, not even in my wildest dream. I still remember crying inconsolably on the phone when I first heard about the incident,” Nadeem said in an exclusive interview with XPRESS, his first in many years.
Meteoric rise and fall
At the height of their stardom in the 1990s, Nadeem Saifi and his partner Shravan Rathod enjoyed an adulation that is usually reserved for A-list Bollywood actors. Their chartbusters in films like Aashiqui, Phool aur Kantey, Raja Hindustani, Deewana, Sadak, Saajan and Dil Hai Ki Manta Nahin made them a household name and also earned them the sobriquet of King of Melodies.
Legend has it that they had almost 250 producers queuing up at their doors. But it all came crashing down when Mumbai police accused Nadeem of having paid a hitman for the murder.
However, in 2002, a Mumbai sessions court convicted only one man out of a possible 19 suspects. Nadeem was cleared of all charges. His extradition case was dismissed by the UK court too and he was awarded £920,080 (Dh4.9 million) in damages. Yet Nadeem remains Mumbai police’s fugitive list.
“I have been living in ignominy for almost 20 years for something I had nothing to do with. I don’t want to die without justice. I have been exonerated by four courts, including the House of Lords and also the sessions court in Mumbai. Given a chance I can prove my innocence in any other court too, but I dread going to Mumbai as I fear I might be taken into custody the moment I step on Indian soil. The police claim I plotted the murder along with gangster Abu Salem, never mind that Salem himself denied my involvement on national television when they put him on narco test and extracted his confessions. Also, if one were to believe the ridiculous notion that I conspired with Salem, then what have the authorities done about it all these years? Have they chargesheeted him in the Gulshan Kumar case? No. So, if he is not answerable, then how can I be answerable?
“In fact, it’s the police who needs to answer some questions because a handwritten confessional statement presented by them as evidence ABB10 (see right) has been conclusively proved as forged by forensic experts and dismissed by the courts. There is no case against me except in the minds of some corrupt policemen who have implicated me and ruined my life. I am also hurt by media reports saying I ran away from India. This is not true, because I was already out of India when the murder took place and compelled to stay abroad,” said Nadeem.
So who could have killed Gulshan Kumar?
“I don’t know. Perhaps investigators may want to revisit the case and look into other angles, such as family feud. Gulshan Kumar had made a will before dying and it had caused a lot of acrimony. I am the last person who could have benefited from Papaji’s death. In fact I am the one who has suffered the most. Not only did I lose my guardian angel, but pretty much everything, including my hometown and aged parents. My heart aches for them. They are in their nineties and totally bedridden. I have not seen them for years. It’s so unfortunate that I can’t be at their side. I can’t even fly them to Dubai because of their frail health. I want to clear my name. If prime minister Narendra Modi or someone from the government gives me an assurance that I won’t be arrested, I will readily go back and face trial. All I seek is justice which is so long overdue,” said Nadeem, who now has a UK passport and lives in Dubai where he runs a successful perfumery business.
“When one door closed, another opened. I was nearing the end of my UK vacation and had barely a few hundred pounds left when Papaji [Gulshan Kumar].was murdered. My core business was snatched away from me and I was made a villain overnight. But I never lost faith in Allah. He was kind to me. Earlier, I appealed to the senses with my music, now I do that with my line of fragrances.
“That said, there is still that feeling of hollowness. Music is and always will be my first love. My fans want me to make a comeback. I still have a lot to offer. In fact I feel my best is yet to come,” said Nadeem, hinting at a “huge project” he is working on.
“I cannot reveal the details, but it will be truly memorable.”
The Story So Far...
1972: Nadeem Saifi and Shravan Rathod meet at a function and the two join hands
1990-1997: The duo shoot into the limelight following the success of Aashiqui produced by Gulshan Kumar. Hits like Saajan, Dil Hai Ki Manta Nahin, Sadak, Raja, Dilwale, Raja Hindustani, Phool Aur Kaante and Pardes turn them into household names in India
July 17, 1997: Nadeem goes to the UK for a family holiday
August 12, 1997: He is still on vacation when Gulshan Kumar is murdered outside a temple in a suburb of Mumbai
August 31, 1997: Mumbai police chief names Nadeem prime suspect and an Interpol alert is issued in his name. On the advice of friends, Nadeem stays back in the UK
Decemeber 2000: London Supreme Court rules that the confessional statement against Nadeem made by ‘approver’ Ali Shaikh is forged
October 2001: UK court orders Indian goverment to pay £920,080 (Dh4.9 million) in damages after failing to extradite him. The court rules “that the accusation of murder and conspiracy made is not made in good faith and in the interests of justice”. The verdict is upheld by the House of Lords after the Indian government appeals
2002: A Mumbai Sessions court acquits Nadeem of all charges
2005: Nadeem part ways with Shravan and launches a perfumery business in Dubai
2016. Nadeem makes a comeback with with lyricist Sameer in the film Ishq Forever starring Krishna Chaturvedi, Ruhi Singh, Lisa Ray, Javed Jaffrey