Since recently, there has been an influx of Indian crime documentaries. With Netflix starting to bring in stories from across the country, it is interesting to see how many of these crime-related stories are quickly forgotten in a matter of months. Thanks to the OTT platforms, many of these are being brought to the limelight, giving us an insight into how the investigation was carried out and who was involved. These stories get us in touch with the true heroes who do the groundwork and get to the endpoint. There are journalists, police officers, and families of the victims involved who gather the courage to talk about it on the screen, probably after years. A Prime Video Original brings you a new true crime documentary series, “Dancing on the Grave,” directed by Patrick Graham, that takes the audience through the murder of a woman from an aristocratic background and the investigation that unfolded. Will we get to see who murdered the woman?
Shakereh Khaleeli’s Life
P. Kodanandaramiah, the then police commissioner of the Bangalore police, said that in 1994, Sabah Khaleeli, the second daughter of Shakereh, walked into the police station and created a ruckus for all the right reasons – she wanted her case to gain some traction. P. Kodanandaramiah happened to be at the station when he sat down with Sabah to understand the reason for her anger and distress. As per P. Kodanandaramiah, she let him know that the case of her missing mother, Shakereh Khaleeli, was registered three years ago, and the local police have done nothing to move the case forward. This brings P. Kodanandaramiah’s attention back to the case, and they decide to investigate the matter.
In “Dancing on the Grave” Episode 1, as many people as possible who knew Shakereh come forward to talk about the kind of life the lady had led. A Singapore-bred woman from an aristocratic background. She was well known at her place of residence, which is Richmond Road in Bangalore, as Nizam’s granddaughter. It was hard to ignore her presence, as described by her family, peers, and acquaintances. Shakereh was married to a diplomat, which led to her traveling around the world and getting in touch with fellow wives of diplomats. Her husband went on to become an ambassador, representing India in many countries, including Iran and Italy. Hearing her stories makes one wonder about the kind of privileged life she led. With the birth of her four daughters, everything seemed perfect in her life, except that it wasn’t. Shakereh had plenty of property inherited in her name from her mother, Gauhar Taj Namazie. Those properties in Bangalore had some issues going on when she got in touch with Shradhananda through her friend, the Begum of Rampur. The name soon became a staple of the family—a friend of Shakereh who would not just help her with property matters but also start advising her on how to live her life. Shakereh’s personal life was already rocky, with her husband always abroad. As per the speakers in “Dancing on the Grave,” Shradhananda made sure to end her marriage with Akbar Khaleeli and pushed her to ask for a divorce.
Shakereh lived in Bangalore, and six months into her divorce, she married Shradhananda, which led to her being ostracized by her family and the family of her ex-husband, including three of her daughters. Only Sabah, her second daughter, stayed in touch with her mother. Sabah was the one who one day suddenly dropped by Bangalore to check up on Shakereh because her mother had stopped calling her. On being questioned by Sabah on her mother’s whereabouts, Shradhananda always gave her vague answers; something after a point did not make any sense. It reached a point where Sabah found her mother’s passport and realized her stepfather was lying; she filed a missing person complaint.
“Dancing on the Grave” Episode 2 had the police in the year 1991 trying hard to find out more details about the whereabouts of Shakereh and where she disappeared. The family, especially Sabah, was desperate to know about her mother. Sabah was known to be closer to her mother ever since her mother’s second marriage. Her disappearance affected her the most. Shradhananda, was not the police’s first suspect. Initially, they had no proof to implicate Shradhananda as being involved in his wife’s disappearance. The investigating police team was clueless about taking this case forward with no evidence in hand. After three years, a helper who had worked with Shakereh and Shradhananda revealed, under the influence of alcohol, that his boss had buried Shakereh under their house as he had asked them to bring a wooden coffin. Shradhananda was finally arrested based on the statement of this man, and the man quickly caved and confessed to having committed the crime and took them to the place where he had buried her. The police now had the case, but except for his confession, all they had was circumstantial evidences. Since it took three years for the police to find out that Shradhananda was the one who buried Shakereh, there wouldn’t be much evidence that the husband would have kept around. They had to arrest the man just based on his confession. Because Shakereh was a woman of means, the motive for her being murdered by Shradhananda also increased manifold. There needs to be solid evidence to prove this theory.
Why Was Shradhananda’s Given Life Imprisonment?
The third episode of “Dancing on the Grave,” has Shradhananda talking about his now-deceased wife, Shakereh, and insisting on the fact that he was not the one who killed her but the one who buried her under the assumption that she had died. Shradhananda does not shy away from talking about how he and his wife were constantly harassed by her family for getting married. Since Shakereh had a lot of properties inherited in her name, targeting her would be an easy choice for her family, claims Shradhananda. The man also implies that maybe her mother was the one who killed her. The man constantly speaks about his love for the woman. Shradhananda believes that being from a family of no means, it was easy for her family to blame him, except for Sabah. His love for her surely makes one wonder if the man was the killer or not. But it is hard to ignore the facts put forward by the prosecution as well. No matter what the court said and sentenced this man to, Shradhananda stuck to his statement, which is that he was innocent. The defense lawyer was quick to point out discrepancies in the investigation, which would easily prove that the man was innocent. With the overwhelming evidence, a few physical and more circumstantial factors were mounting, leading to the man’s arrest and trial, which could not be avoided. Throughout “Dancing on the Grave,” footage of Sabah speaking about her mother and the dynamic she and Shakereh shared. Sabah couldn’t believe that the man who swore to protect her mother had killed her. Shakereh’s mother, Gauhar Taj Namazie’s footage also talks about the mistake she thinks her daughter made by marrying a gold digger husband.
As the case and the trial went along for years, the man had already completed 13 years in prison, which came up to life imprisonment. But since the family was keen on keeping this man behind bars, they appealed to the prosecution to request maximum sentencing for Shradhananda because they believed this murder fell under the category of the rarest of the rare. The prosecution can only appeal for the rarest of the rare when they establish that the murder was committed to gain something. This can be easily proved, as Shradhananda had power of attorney for all the properties that Shakereh owned, and in her will, a lot of properties were left behind in his name.
Nobody has any idea if the woman was coerced into agreeing to these legal documents or if she signed them out of her own will. This was enough to prove that the man had a reason to get her murdered. Plus, there is also the breach of trust in the form of Shradhananda lying to Sabah about her mother’s absence. He intentionally kept them from knowing the truth. The man had also emptied his wife’s bank accounts and taken away all her jewelry after killing her. The man had also sold off many of her properties after her disappearance, except the home he lives in. He claims to have a sentimental attachment to his place, as he and Shakereh lived in it. It could be an indication that since he knew he had buried her under this house, selling it off would not be an ideal option. This would also come under the clause of breach of trust, which can be used to impose the death sentence. The Shradhananda who claims now from jail to have had his reasons to have buried his woman, none of his statements corroborate incidents described by people associated with Shakereh. It is murder with the intent to gain. That’s why, initially, Shradhananda was awarded the death sentence, but after multiple appeals, it was reduced to a life sentence, which the Supreme Court changed into life imprisonment without remission. This means the man will never be acquitted or given bail. He will breathe his last in prison.
The police also talk about what they found when they exhumed the body of Shakereh from the compound of the house. Apart from her mortal remains, a portion of her hair and the marks of her nails inside the box indicate that Shakereh was buried alive by this man. She tried to get herself out of the coffin, but unfortunately, she was trapped forever, which led to her death. The man was known to have organized parties in his home after his wife’s disappearance, and people have claimed to have danced on this particular spot where she was buried. Though Shradhananda claims to have buried his wife as per Muslim rites, reality showcases something altogether different. His claiming his innocence and the circumstantial evidence found against him makes him sound like a monster who is possibly a pathological liar.
Once the sentencing was done, the family of Shakereh was constantly somber whenever they talked about her because she was the black sheep of the family. After all, she chose to live the life she wanted. The woman was talked about in hushed tones about why she deserved the death she got because she lived on her terms. Shakereh did not deserve to die the way she did just because she lived her life her way. But her family always had another story to tell. Even after being ostracized, Shakereh seemed relatively happier to have walked out on her first marriage. Shakereh was not allowed to be buried with her family. This again is a wrong attitude towards someone who chose to live with the man of her choice, but that does not mean she should have been robbed of the burial rituals as per her faith’s customs. But what makes the audience wonder if Sabah could have fought for her mother’s right to have a dignified burial in the ancestral family graveyard? The documentary “Dancing on the Grave” ends with the haunting recorded voice of Shakereh, who used to sing during prayer time. The woman surely lived her life the way she wanted, but sadly, she did not exit from this world the way she wanted.