For more than a week following the accident that killed model Sonika Singh Chauhan in Kolkata on April 29, the city police did not question Bengali actor Vikram Chatterjee, who had been driving. They lodged a suo motu case and sent him a notice seeking to record his statement, but it was not until Tuesday night and Wednesday that they finally questioned him. When they did, it was twice in the space of 12 hours.
In between, Chatterjee surrendered before a court, obtained bail, and resumed shooting. He also held a press conference to declare he hadn’t been drunk. When he was questioned by police, however, he reportedly admitted that he had indeed consumed alcohol though he insisted that he hadn’t been intoxicated.
Meanwhile, Chauhan’s family have lodged a complaint against Chatterjee, which the police have now clubbed with their case. Family, friends and fans have launched a social media campaign including a petition seeking ‘Justice for Sonika’, supported by over 5,000 people so far. Vikram’s fans have been running a parallel campaign calling him a ‘victim of an accident’.
There has also been an element of politics, with minister Arup Biswas having visited Chatterjee in hospital; he told reporters he did so on Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s instructions. BJP leaders have been alleging that a nexus between Trinamool Congress leaders and Tollywood has delayed the investigation. And BJP MP Roopa Ganguly joined a candlelight protest demanding justice for Chauhan.
The vehicle Chatterjee had been driving, a Toyota Corolla Altis, had crashed into a pavement on Rash Behari Avenue. Chatterjee took Chauhan, who was reportedly not wearing a seat belt, to Ruby General Hospital, where she died. After Chatterjee was discharged on May 3 and the police served him a notice, he surrendered in
the court and was granted bail, unopposed by the public prosecutor. He then held the press conference to deny having drunk alcohol.
Then videos went viral, apparently circulated by friends of Chatterjee and Chauhan, showing him holding a glass of liquor. During questioning, he reportedly told police they had visited three pubs — Phoenix, Underground and Myx — and claimed he just took a soft drink in the third. He claimed he was driving sober at 60-70 km/hr, police said.
“This is like a joke. Someone comes, gives a bold statement that he wasn’t drunk and then after videos are out he takes a slight turn and says I drank but within limits. I think he should be the last person whose statement should be given any importance,” model Satarupa Pyne told The Indian Express.
Police sources said Chatterjee’s version hasn’t been consistent. He claims to have left the last pub at 2.30 am but the accident at 3.30 am, police said, took place at a spot that shouldn’t have taken an hour to reach. CCTV footage shows the car parked at Rajdanga in Kasba for about 35 minutes. Chatterjee reportedly explained to police that he was just chatting with Chauhan near his home. Police are now trying to find out whether the two drank inside the car too.
Actor Anindya Chatterjee, a friend of the two, also had his statement recorded by police. “I feel Vikram was intoxicated,” Anindya Chatterjee said at Tollygunge police station. On April 17, he had tweeted about Vikram Chatterjee’s liking for speed, saying he had taken the move The Fast and the Furious literally. Chauhan had responded: “Not funny guys, idiots look after urselves.” The conversation has now been deleted.
The case started by police is under IPC section 304 A (causing death due to negligence) and 279 (rash driving), both bailable. Legal experts say he could be arrested if police add section 304 (culpable homicide not amounting to murder).
Police did not have his blood tested after the accident but have now sent a sample, collected by the hospital after the accident, for tests. This has been criticised in the online petition, which says, “We demand that the authorities interview eyewitnesses, question the hospital authorities as to whether or not the mandatory Blood Alcohol Test was carried out, and to also question Vikram Chatterjee as to why it was more important for him to call a press conference ‘Before; surrendering at the Police Station. An ordinary non-celebrity would not be able to get away with him, so why is this citizen being given so much leeway?”
Police have now formed a special investigation team. Police sources said mechanical tests of the vehicle were done twice and the initial report says the car had no technical fault.
Police also asked Chatterjee that when Ram Krishna Mission Hospital, AMRI Hospital and SSKM Hospital were all close to the accident spot, why he chose to took Sonika to Ruby General Hospital. According to police, he told them he was too traumatised to think.
The model and the actor
SONIKA SINGH CHAUHAN was a Kolkata-based model who anchored the Pro Kabaddi League coverage, besides promoting brands in Mumbai. She often spoke of her craze for speed; she once said in a newspaper interview, “I wish I could have been a Formula 1 driver.”
VIKRAM CHATTERJEE is a Bengali actor whose films have included Saheb Bibi Golaam. With a real bandage on his head, he is currently shooting for popular Bengali serial which includes a hospital scene.