Superintendent of police Sam Alex takes up a parallel investigation into the disappearance of a few young men, whose bodies with torture marks were found three days after they had gone incommunicado.
Though an alcoholic on an extended leave, Alex, played by Prithviraj Sukumaran in the Jeethu Joseph-directed 2013 Malayalam movie Memories, cracks the case.
Budding filmmaker Nayana Sooryan assisted Joseph in the making of the crime thriller.
On 24 February 2019, six years after the movie was released, she died under mysterious circumstances — or so her friends believed.
The Museum Police, who investigated her death, found nothing mysterious. They cited her health condition, a possible extreme sexual act, and even suicide as the cause of her death.
Her friends discarded the police theories. They accused the local police of grave derelictions in handling the case, beginning from the crime scene investigation.
Almost four years later, the postmortem report was “leaked” ‘to her friends. The report, which had been kept away from them, cemented their suspicion of foul play.
Nayana was found unconscious at her rented accommodation at Althara Nagar in the capital city, Thiruvananthapuram, on the day she died.
Though the friends, who rushed in after their phone calls went unanswered, rushed her to a hospital, she was declared “dead on arrival”.
Armed with the postmortem report, Nayana’s friends have demanded a reinvestigation into her death.
Crime Branch to probe
Following their demand, Assistant Commissioner of Police JK Dinil was asked to investigate the alleged lapses on the part of the local police in the case.
On Wednesday, 4 January, he reportedly appraised the senior officers that there is merit in the allegation and a reinvestigation is needed to bring out the truth.
The next day, Additional Director General of Police (Law and Order) MR Ajith Kumar ordered a Crime Branch probe, suspecting murder.
“The autopsy report was there from 24 February, 2019. But the local police ensured that the report didn’t get leaked. They were also able to convince Nayana’s family that the report shouldn’t be made public as its findings might discredit her,” a friend of Nayana, who requested anonymity, told South First.
“From the very first day, we had our doubts. One who knows Nayana knew that she will not commit suicide. Yes, she was mentally down after her mentor, director Lenin Rajendran’s death on 14 January, 2019. But we don’t believe that it forced her to take the extreme step,” she added.
The autopsy report, which Nayana’s friends got recently, left them in shock.
Constriction force on the neck
Of the many findings in the autopsy report, the opinion of “constriction force on the neck” as the cause of death and contusion on the left side of the abdomen piqued Nayana’s friends.
Dr K Sasikala, professor, Department of Forensic Medicine, Government Medical College, Thiruvananthapuram, who conducted the postmortem, had found abrasions, dark brownish-red discoloration, multiple pinkish discolorations, and contusions on Nayana’s body.
Though the samples, including blood, viscera, vaginal swabs, and others were sent for chemical analysis, the findings were yet to be made available.
According to an official of the State Forensic Science Laboratory, constriction force on the neck might be the result of either suicidal or homicidal, or accidental hanging. The official also added that to differentiate the suicidal or homicidal nature of such deaths, the profile of neck structure injuries is usually carried out.
“The pattern of injuries to neck structures varies in hanging deaths (suicide or homicide) and strangulation. Usually, the police surgeon profiles such injuries and intimate the same to the investigating officer. In this case, the surgeon concerned might have followed the procedure,” the official told South First.
Merin Mathew, one of the friends who had rushed to Nayana’s apartment on that fateful day, told the media that she found Nayana with a blanket-like cloth around her neck.
The asphyxiophilia theory
The local police earlier surmised that Nayana might have died while performing auto-erotic asphyxiation or asphyxiophilia — an intentional restriction of oxygen to the brain for sexual arousal.
They opined that accidental death is common during this activity as the person who performs it uses various methods to achieve the required level of oxygen depletion, like hanging, self-strangulation, and suffocation with a plastic bag over the head or by other means.
However, Nayana’s friends ruled out the police version as absurd and fabricated.
“The police team that investigated the case first sabotaged it on behalf of someone. That’s what we suspect. The police tried to picture Nayana as one who had mental issues and now this cooked-up asphyxiophilia theory! It’s completely absurd,” a friend said.
The local police also mixed Nayana’s health conditions like low blood pressure and low blood sugar levels in their suicide narrative.
Meanwhile, Nayana’s family told the media that they want answers and accused the local police of misleading them.
The Crime Branch is likely to face multiple challenges in probing Nayana’s death, thanks to the alleged sloppiness of the initial investigators.
It is alleged that the first team did not even follow the basic crime scene investigation procedures like collecting fingerprints, sending materials, including Nayana’s clothes, for forensic examination, confiscating the mobile phone, analysing call data records, and others.
Who was Nayana?
Nayana Sooryan is known for her works in Mollywood, first as an associate director who had worked with filmmakers Lenin Rajendran, Kamal, Dr Biju, Jeethu Joseph, and others.
She started her career with the 2011 movie Makaramanju, directed by Rajendran. She was also part of films like Utopiayile Rajavu, Memories, and Akashathinte Niram.
In 2017, she made her debut as an independent director with the movie Pakshikalude Manam, a part of an anthology, titled Crossroad.
Nayana, who hailed from Karunagappally in the Kollam district, stayed in Thiruvananthapuram to pursue her career.
She was also known for her interventions in social issues, especially against the mineral sand mining at Alappad in Kollam.
Her friends wanted this angle to be included in the probe as Nayana was said to be documenting the ill effects of sea washing or surface mining of sand at Alappad.