The Preity Zinta-Ness Wadia spat is not just about bruised egos. It’s also about millions of dollars slipping out of their IPL franchise.
By Vishwas Kumar
It is “preity nessy” for sure, quip the punsters avidly following the ugly legal duel between the former lovers as if it was a public display of an Indian copy of the American serial The Bold and the Beautiful. With a combustible mix of Bollywood, business, cricket and mafia, it’s a fracas that is heady enough to grab the headlines. While the media has salivated over the unsavory and salacious bits of the fallout between Bollywood actress Preity Zinta and industrialist Nusli Wadia scion Ness, what is obvious is that it is bound to singe both of them. Who knew love could so easily turn to hate? Or that hell hath a worse fury when a man is scorned?
They were the best-looking celeb couple in recent times —he, with his rakish good looks and she, with her delectable dimples and bouncy demeanor. And then, they became co-owners of an IPL franchise, Kings XI Punjab. But their mutual affection turned sour after five years together and erupted during an IPL match between Kings XI Punjab and Chennai Super Kings in Mumbai’s Wankhede Stadium on May 30, 2014, when Ness allegedly screamed at her, grabbed her arms and tried to pull her. Preity filed an FIR, claiming that Ness used phrases like “f******g b***h”, and “f**k you”.
Ness was apparently provoked when he reached the stadium and found no seat for himself and his mother. As Kings XI co-owners, both Preity and Ness were entitled to 15 seats each, but since it was Ness’ birthday he had bought about 35 extra tickets. But finding all the seats occupied, he contacted the IPL organizers, even as his family and friends kept standing. What annoyed him was that Preity kept chatting to her friends all this while, ignoring the Wadias.
Preity, on her part, said in her complaint: “Mr Ness Wadia’s aforesaid behavior on numerous occasions has embarrassed me and made me feel ashamed, especially in public.” Police pressed charges under Sections 509 and 354 (outraging a woman’s modesty), 504 (breach of peace) and 506 (criminal intimidation) of the IPC against Ness, based on Preity’s complaint.
It’s about money, honey
But there is a story behind this ugly spat between the former lovers. It has to do with Preity’s adamancy, Ness’ egoism and the inability to sell their IPL franchise. The Kings XI franchisee was bought for $76 million between Ness, Preity, the Burman family of Dabur group and Karan Paul of Apeejay Surendra group. Inside sources say that Ness gave money to Preity to buy her 23 percent stake. While it is believed that she returned the money, Ness felt he had given a new lease of life to Preity, as her Bollywood career was on the decline in 2008.
By the time IPL’s third season started in 2010, the valuation of the franchises had zoomed. This was reflected in the sale of a minority stake in Rajasthan Royals to businessman Raj Kundra and his wife, Shilpa Shetty, another actress. Kings XI, which had grossly underperformed in the first two seasons, sought a buyer. Besides the initial $76 million that the promoters had sunk in, many more millions were poured in to buy the players and for administrative costs. But the returns were nowhere in sight. By 2010, only Rajasthan Royals and Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) had made money.
Looking for a way out, Kings XI reportedly struck a deal with Roman Abramovich, a Russian billionaire and owner of Chelsea football club, for $360 million. All the promoters agreed to sell except Preity, the chairperson. She wanted to retain 6.5 percent of her 23 percent stake. But Abramovich wanted to buy the whole 100 percent. The deal was stuck, even though the entire amount was reportedly transferred by him into an escrow account in an Indian bank.
Left in the lurch
This angered Ness as he felt she had no right to derail a lucrative deal, especially when she herself could have earned over $80 million. The anger intensified when, in October 2010, the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) disqualified Kings XI and Rajasthan Royals from the League. The board felt that Lalit Modi, who was suspended a few months earlier as IPL Commissioner, had proxy stakes in both teams.
BCCI’s sudden move left Ness, the Burmans and Paul with no locus standi to re-negotiate with Abramovich or talk to any other investors for the sale of Kings XI. Sources said that Ness felt that Preity had played spoilsport even after he had helped her so much. Preity, on the other hand, thought that she had given up her acting career for the IPL team and had spent considerable time and effort to manage it and, therefore, had the right to continue to own it. She reportedly told friends that the Burmans and Paul had contributed nothing, and even Ness’ involvement was minimal.
After the team’s suspension, Preity tweeted: “Still absorbing the news. “After working so hard in the IPL and putting my everything (into) building this team, (this) is not what I expected!” It hinted that she believed that she was the mind, heart and soul behind Kings XI. In a bid to safeguard her only investments, Preity fought hard against BCCI’s decision. The differences between her and Ness sharpened even more.
To worsen matters, the Income Tax Department and Enforcement Directorate investigated the finances and sources of funding of Kings XI, Rajasthan Royals and KKR. Owners were questioned, thanks to complaints filed by BCCI. It was only in 2011 that the Mumbai High Court revoked BCCI’s decision, enabling Kings XI to participate in IPL once again. And this season (2014), the team lost to KKR, which won the League for the second time.
At a personal level, their relationship had plummeted. Ness’ ego and possible chauvinism did not allow him to accept the fact that Preity had moved on. In a twitter exchange on celebrity status, which Preity had with fans on May 13, a fortnight before the Wankhede stadium incident, she tweeted: “2days chat is bout the CELEBRITY! What we expect frm dem & who’s a Celebrity? Can fame be enough reason2 love or hate some1.”
In a subsequent tweet, she said: “I’ve few friends as most people only want 2know me cuz Im famous & not4 who I am. I’m admired like a trophy & must always shine & be perfect.” Another tweet was more revealing: “Men want 2date me & own me yet their egos cannot handle that i overshadow them & make them insecure. Ladies n Gentleman this is a Celebrity.” Was it a comment on how Ness treated her during their relationship phase that lasted five years?
A bad sport?
The fact that Preity had moved on must have rankled Ness. In an interview to a film magazine, Preity said: “It (the affair with Ness) got over in 2009. So, we need to stop mentioning him every time.” Then she dropped a bombshell: “I’ve moved on. He has moved on. There’s someone else in my life and I am happy about it.” However, she did not reveal who that “someone” was. Insiders contend that Ness found it difficult to digest this. His anger and bitterness grew and was reflected in his petty behavior towards Preity. This, coupled with the loss of a lucrative business deal, complicated matters.
To add more spice to this sorry affair, entered an underworld don—Ravi Pujari a former lieutenant of Chota Ragan. Pujari called up Ness’ father, Nusli, the great grandson of Pakistan’s founder, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, and promoter of Bombay Dyeing group, and suggested that he should not harass Preity. Nusli complained to Mumbai Police; Purina publicly claimed he was Preity’s fan and only wanted Nusli to ask his son to “behave”.
Several political angles were also added to this script. Sources claimed that the Wadias are bound to use their political clout to gag and “control” Preity. However, the actress is no babe in the woods and is capable of pulling strings too. She is reportedly close to Rajiv Pratap Rudy, the BJP MP in-charge of Maharashtra, and is an open fan of Narendra Modi.
As the drama unfolds, we have not heard the last of this mismatch.
• Section 354
Assault or criminal force to woman with intent to outrage her modesty: Outraging the modesty of a woman would include all crimes against woman that stop short of penetration, in which case it becomes rape.
• Section 504
Intentional insult with intent to provoke breach of peace: To insult a person and thereby provoke the person, knowing that such provocation will cause the person to break public peace
• Section 506
Punishment for criminal intimidation: Threatening another with injury to his person, reputation or property with intent to cause alarm or with intent to cause the person to do an act the person is not legally bound to do.
Word, gesture or act to insult the modesty of a woman: Uttering a word, making a gesture or sound or exhibiting any object to a woman with the intention of insulting her modesty. Intruding upon the privacy of a woman would also attract punishment under Section 509.
“Alas. Why women choose settlement? Get him jailed and 100 people will take lesson!! HOW CAN MONEY NEUTRALIZE CRIME?”
“Had she gone to the media, not police, you would’ve asked why she has not filed an FIR. Most crimes happen at the hands of people who are known to the victims.”
Kavita Krishnan Secretary, All India Progressive Women’s Association, and member, CPI (ML)
“Shame on Preity Zinta for making a molestation out of a tiff between ex-lovers. When little girls are raped and hanged for nothing. If verbal abuse amounts to outraging a woman’s modesty, I have a long list of trolls I can file an FIR against.”
Tavleen Singh, journalist
“When such spats involve a beautiful and brave former “Bollywood star” who is facing a slow and painful fade-out and a volatile rich man who happens to be a former lover and… business partner, it’s a made-for-media story all the way.”
Shobha De, writer