Mumbai: Two bodies found stuffed in cardboard cartons and dumped in a sewer in Mumbai have been identified as those of an installation artist and her lawyer, opening a fresh can of worms when the metropolis has been emerging from the salacious spell cast by the Sheena Bora murder case.
The bodies of Hema Upadhyay, a 43-year-old artist well known on the Mumbai culture circuit, and her lawyer Harsh Bhambani, 65, were found in the suburb of Kandivali on Saturday around 7.30pm.
Police said the two carboard boxes seemed to have been dumped there only an hour earlier. "We are quite close to solving the case," a police officer said on Sunday.
The police have recorded the statements of Hema's former husband, her driver and her domestic help.
Hema's former husband, artist Chintan Upadhyay, lives in Delhi while she stayed in their marital home, a sea-facing apartment in Juhu. Chintan is famous for his baby sculptures and paintings.
The two had an acrimonious separation in 2010 when their mud-slinging in public was the talk of the cocktail set. The divorce came through last year. A criminal petition filed by Hema against Chintan and an alimony battle - she had demanded Rs 1 lakh a month from him - are pending in the courts.
On Sunday morning, Chintan was in Mumbai. He has told the police that he flew down from Delhi after the estranged couple's old domestic help, who had stayed on with Hema, phoned him to say she was missing.
Hema had not returned home from a dinner with two artist couples.
The domestic help had filed a complaint at Santa Cruz police station after Hema failed to return. So had Bhambani's wife -he had told her that he was going to meet a client, according to the police.
Bhambani has been Hema's lawyer through her divorce battle, from the trial court till the high court.
Chintan was represented during the period by celebrity divorce lawyer Mrunalini Deshmukh, who has handled the separations of Aamir Khan from his first wife Reena Dutta; Arun Nayar from Valentina Pedroni before he married Liz Hurley (a marriage that did not last, either); Aditya Chopra from Payal Chopra; and Hrithik Roshan from Sussanne Khan.
"The police are following the law in questioning Chintan but any suggestion that he might be involved in this in any way is preposterous," Deshmukh told The Telegraph.
On Sunday morning, Hema's brother identified her partially dismembered body from a surgical scar.
Chintan and Hema had moved to Mumbai from Vadodara after they got married in 1998 - they were college sweethearts at MS University where they had studied art.
"They dated for three years before tying the knot. Together they rode the noughties art wave with their distinctive and independent styles in inventive use of mixed media and 3D installations," a friend said.
The first decade of the 21st century has often been referred to as the noughties - a derivative of the word "nought" or zero. Between the years 2000 and 2009, "noughties" had become a moniker for fresh ideas in art, literature, music, technology, cinema, theatre, sports, games, fashion and design.
With success came complexities and ego clashes. Their public squabbles became a source of much tittle-tattle and they filed for divorce in 2010.
Hema, considered the more "talented but reticent"of the two, had been signed on by Gallery Chemould for her innovative use of photography and sculptural installations. Chintan's signature fibre glass babies had attained recognition from global auction houses.
In 2013, Hema filed a criminal case against Chintan alleging that he had drawn obscene pictures of her on the walls of his bedroom in the home the couple shared - they lived in separate bedrooms of the same house then.
In her complaint, Hema said she had brought home two stray dogs following the couple's estrangement. A livid Chintan allegedly drew the sketches that also featured the dogs, according to the complaint.
"She had got to know about Chintan's etchings when she found some male servants giggling and pointing towards Chintan's room. She was horrified to see the drawings.... It broke her up. Hema was this beautiful, calm, sophisticated person in college, while Chintan was brazen and provocative and had a raw appeal. It was a classic case of attraction of opposites. Both were our friends. But after their estrangement, Hema gradually cut off ties with us," said an old college friend of the couple.