A young starlet, a hotel employee, a minor, who allegedly molested her and a slap to solve the matter were the fodder — feed if you please — for live television in Bhopal on Friday.
As one channel appropriated the accuser, Khushi Mukherjee, the other made do with the accused, till one of them arranged a face-off, leaving a nonplussed police waiting outside the studios wondering what to do with the FIR.
The drama went on for hours, with the hotel management also chipping in, providing CCTV footage that showed the starlet allegedly drunk, struggling to stand on her feet one night.
The story began with Zee Madhya Pradesh, that in the afternoon started running an ‘exclusive’ of Mukherjee saying she was touched when asleep in a hotel. She said her “molester” had run away when she woke up and the hotel management had tried to shield him.
She also claimed that when she confronted the teenager, he had said he liked her. However, he had denied the same before the hotel staff, Mukherjee fumed, causing her to slap him.
Angry as she was, the actress didn’t go to police but to TV, so there was no FIR against the minor or the hotel.
Rival channels hurried to pick up the story, with titles such as “Heroine ne dikhayi himmat, rafuchakkar hua manchala” and “Khushi ki Patkatha” rivalling those doubting her story with headlines such as “Khushi ka khatarnak drama” and “Khushi ki nautanki”. BJP and Congress leaders were next to take sides, with the Congress fuming against “BJP ke gunde” and regretting that “Madhya Pradesh had been shamed once again”.
Over at ETV studios, the minor waged a comparatively lonely battle claiming his innocence. His face partly covered, he told an anchor, visibly sympathetic, that he had rung the bell thrice before entering Mukherjee’s room and hadn’t touched her.
The channel later flaunted CCTV footage it had got from the hotel of Mukherjee — who is in the city for a film shoot and checked in more than two weeks ago — allegedly showing her drunk. As the hotel hinted that the story had been conjured by the actor to escape paying outstanding bills, the channel slammed it all as a publicity stunt.
Then, around 7 pm, the story and ETV got a new life. In walked Mukherjee, sat next to the minor accused and started attacking him on live TV. The first to desert the minor was the anchor of the show.
‘Your life will be ruined if you don’t confess now. If you own up I will pardon you,” Mukherjee shouted at the minor, pushing him and at least once slapping him. His defence “I did not touch you” got feebler by the minute.
She went on to break down, and he proceeded to say sorry.
Having stolen a clear march over the others, E TV announced “it was only doing its duty”, adding for good measure, “kids these days stray”.
Trying to catch up, Zee had by now started running shows on the “mentality” that casts aspersions on women who sport short dresses.
Mukherjee warned she was watching — and closely. “I am pardoning the boy but not the hotel. I will sue it for defamation because it indulged in character assassination,’’ she said.
Slowest to catch on, police said it was far from out of the picture. A complaint under Section 354 had been filed against the accused, an official posted at M P Nagar Police Station said. “That is what happens these days. We will investigate. FIR has not been withdrawn.”
ETV, however, was ready to bring the curtains down. “You watched it here live how the boy said sorry to Khushi Mukherjee, and how she has decided to pardon him because he is a minor,’’ it declared.