MUMBAI: Internationally acclaimed contemporary artist Hema Upadhyay (43) and her lawyer Harish Bhambhani (65) were murdered and their bodies dumped in a nullah in Kandivli (West) on Saturday evening. The bodies were found packed in two cardboard boxes, which were wrapped in white plastic sheets. The police said Bhambhani had received a call on his cellphone from someone on Friday night, summoning him and Hema to Kandivli for “fresh evidence” in a case they were pursuing. One of the possibilities being investigated is that the two were smothered in a vehicle. While three people were detained, a team of policemen has gone out of Mumbai to nab others. The motive was likely to be a financial matter or a property dispute, officials said.Hema (nee Hirani) was going through a bitter divorce battle with her artist husband Chintan Upadhyay since 2010. The two were college sweethearts. Bhambhani was representing Hema in a complaint of harassment she had filed against Chintan in 2013 for painting “obscene” sketches on the walls of their Juhu flat. The crime branch questioned Chintan at its Kandivli unit throughout Sunday. Chintan told them he hadn’t spoken to Hema recently.
“Hema lived in the Juhu flat while Chintan had moved to Delhi. Her house help last saw her on Friday morning when she left home. Later that day, she instructed him on phone not to prepare dinner,” said a police officer. When he did not hear from Hema till Saturday and couldn’t get through on phone, the domestic help lodged a missing complaint at the Santa Cruz police station.
Bhambhani, who lives in King’s Circle, left home around 6.30pm. Late that night, he spoke to his daughter on phone and told her he was with Hema, busy on a case. He said he would call back, but did not. He did not return home the next day. His daughter tried calling up Hema, in vain. She approached the Matunga police station with a missing complaint.
Hema’s car was found at her studio in Andheri (West). “Bhambhani seems to have met Hema at the studio. We believe he got a phone call summoning the two of them to Laljipada on Kandivli Link Road. Their mobile phones were active till 8.30pm,” an official said.
A sweeper entered a nullah near the Dahanukarwadi crematorium in Kandivali (West) around 6.30 pm on Saturday on spotting two floating cardboard boxes. The nullah waters aren’t deep. The sweeper was stunned when he found a foot dangling out of one of the boxes. He alerted the Kandivali police. “When we opened the boxes, we found Bhambhani gagged, his mouth covered with tape and his hands tied behind his back. Hema’s arms were behind her back too, but they weren’t tied. We could ascertain their identities after going through missing complaints. The duo could have been smothered to death,” said an officer. An autopsy has been conducted on both bodies. The cause of death has been kept pending chemical analysis.
“It was only after the police arrived that a crowd gathered at the nullah and we realized that bodies had been dumped there,” said a woman shop owner. There is a row of residential buildings on one side of the nullah and people are constantly milling around. “None of us spotted any vehicle coming by to dump boxes into the nullah,” she said, adding that the police opened the boxes not too far from her shop.
Bhambhani’s Honda City is missing as are personal belongings of both victims.
Hema and Chintan were married on October 31, 1998, according to Hindu Vedic rites. The couple did not have children. Over the years, the couple filed multiple cases against each other, the police said.
“Hema was spotted at an art walk in the city on Thursday. She was very successful in her career. I was college buddies with both Hema and Chintan,” said artist Sandeep Paradkar. “She was full of energy, very friendly, slightly tomboyish and extremely warm. Two years ago when I met her, she had gained weight and appeared depressed. She was stressed about her personal life but spoke of it only on one occasion.”
The victims’ viscera will be sent to the state forensic laboratory in Kalina on Monday. Hema’s Baroda-based brother rushed to Mumbai on Sunday and was present at the post-mortem centre, along with Bhambhani’s nephew. The bodies would be handed over to the victims’ families on Monday. High court lawyers said they did not know Bhambhani. He used to practice in the Andheri magistrate’s court.
(With inputs from Swati Deshpande and S Ahmed Ali)

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Source: TOI-MUM