Just before murder, Hema told her mum she was going to meet an acquaintance

Murdered artist Hema Upadhyay's mother tells mid-day about the last call she got from her daughter, as well as the strained marriage between Hema and Chintan

Just before artist Hema Upadhyay was killed, she had called her mother to tell her she was going to meet someone she knew. Devastated by Hema’s gruesome murder, her mother, Beena Manubhai Hirani, isn’t sure who is to blame — Hema’s husband, Chintan, or Vidyadhar Rajbhar (aka Gotu), the art fabricator who had worked with her in the past. “Whether it is Chintan or Gotu, whoever killed my daughter must be punished. I have full faith in the judiciary,” she said.

Beena Manubhai Hirani
Hema Upadhyay’s mother Beena Manubhai Hirani said the family began looking for when she failed to get in touch with them for an entire day. Pic/Sayyed Sameer Abedi

Beena is sure it was someone Hema knew well. “On December 11, the day Hema was killed, she had called me around 6.23 pm to inform me that she was going to meet a known person. She told me she would call again at 1 pm the next day,” said the 72-year-old.

Hema Upadhyay
Hema Upadhyay

But when Hema failed to get in touch the next day, the family began to look for her, only to hear the shocking news of her murder. “I could not believe what I heard. Hema was a very loving daughter; she used to call me every day to check on my health. I cannot believe that she is no more. Maaru toh baddhu lutai gayu (I have lost everything in my life),” said an inconsolable Beena.

Marital discord
Beena said there had been constant fights between Hema and Chintan, but she never imagined that it might one day snatch her daughter from her.

Hema and Chintan had met at the Maharaja Sayajirao University, and fell in love. They got married on October 31, 1998 in Jaipur. At first, they lived in a tiny flat in Borivli and had to face several hardships as they struggled to make it big as artists. Through it all, they remained deeply in love. The problems began when they moved into their Juhu flat.

“Hema had complained about Chintan to me for the first time in 2006. I thought it was an ordinary fight and told her not to bring it up before her father, as he was unwell and doctors had said he would not live long,” she said.

Hema’s father, Manubhai, passed away on September 5, 2006, but Hema and Chintan’s arguments only grew worse. There were frequent spats between the two even after they got divorced, said Beena.

Fight over dogs
During their long-drawn divorce, the court had asked Hema and Chintan to live in separate rooms at their home in Mittal Ocean building in Juhu.

The dogs, Kismet and Lucky, inside the court-mandated wire enclosure

Chintan had also complained about Hema’s dogs, Kismet and Lucky. In reply to this, the court told Hema that she should keep her beloved dogs inside her own bedroom in a wire mesh enclosure, so that they can’t step out.

Accused Gotu’s sister, Geeta, pointed the finger of suspicion at Chintan and said it was difficult to believe her brother could kill for money. However, the police are yet to find any evidence that will stick against Chintan, and are waiting to catch Gotu so they can piece together the different leads.

So far, one of the arrested accused has admitted that they met and discussed the murder at a Chembur hotel a few days before the crime. Cops suspect another meeting might have been held in Jaipur as well. Two teams have been formed – one has gone to the pink city to find clues, while the other team is searching for clues in Chembur and Kurla. Officials are also checking CCTV footage in the area to ascertain who was there for the meeting.

Sources said Chintan is still not cooperating with the police in the probe. The cops have found a few leads in the case but are unable to corroborate any of it without Gotu.  

A natural artist
Beena remembers her youngest daughter, Hema (born on May 18, 1972), as a child prodigy when it came to art. “Hema was 5 years old when she took part in a drawing competition and stood first. She had loved drawing since then. Art was God’s gift to her,” said a teary-eyed Beena.

“Hema donated the income from the first two drawings she sold. After she started earning well, she took me to France, for her art exhibition. Just this year, she had taken me to Venice,” said Beena. 

Lawyer’s wife had a premonition
Before Harish Bhambhani left with Hema for the fateful meeting in Kandivli on December 11, his wife Poonam had advised him to not go. She sensed that something bad was about to happen. However, Harish decided to go anyway, since accused Vidyadhar Rajbhar (aka Gotu) had told them he had some strong evidence against Chintan. Harish picked up Hema from her office, and they headed to the Kandivli warehouse, where Gotu and his accomplices murdered them.

Harish’s phone was on for several hours after the murder. Poonam and their daughter Anita first called him at 12 midnight, but he did not answer. Around 3.15 am, the phone rang again, but went unanswered. They kept calling him until the phone was switched off. The next morning, Poonam went to the Matunga police station and lodged a missing person’s complaint for her husband, and Anita and her uncle went to Hema’s studio to check where the duo was.

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