Kings XI Punjab co-owners Preity Zinta and Ness Wadia at the 2008 IPL auction in Mumbai.In 2003, as larger-than-life reel heroes cowered, actor Preity Zinta, a mere 28 years old, testified against gangster Chhota Shakeel in the Bharat Shah case of Bollywood’s nexus with the Mumbai underworld. Current Mumbai,Kings XI Punjab co-owners Preity Zinta and Ness Wadia at the 2008 IPL auction in Mumbai.In 2003, as larger-than-life reel heroes cowered, actor Preity Zinta, a mere 28 years old, testified against gangster Chhota Shakeel in the Bharat Shah case of Bollywood’s nexus with the Mumbai underworld. Current Mumbai Police Commissioner Rakesh Maria was then the city’s Crime Branch chief. He put her into witness protection and kept her out of the public eye for two months. She was the only witness not to turn hostile, testifying to the Mumbai Sessions Court that the gangster had said: “Main bhai ka aadmi Razak bol raha hoon aur mujhe 50 lakh chahiye.” Preity claimed, when she finally emerged, that she had aged 10 years in those two months. But she was proud, she was vocal, and she was fearless.This time, as Maria steers the investigations into the now 39-year-old’s charges of verbal and physical abuse against ex-boyfriend and co-owner of the Kings XI Punjab team, Ness Wadia, he deals with a very different Preity. Distraught, emotional, self-admittedly fearful for her life, the actor skipped out of the public eye hurriedly, taking off to her home in Los Angeles after filing a midnight complaint on June 12 at the Marine Lines Police Station in Mumbai under sections 354, 509, 504, 506 of the IPC, two weeks after the incident occurred. Mumbai Police, unsure of whether to add a stalking charge in the absence of CCTV footage to corroborate her claim, and under pressure to be seen as proactive on women’s issues, sent a letter to her via lawyer Hitesh Jain, asking her to record a statement in person by the following weekend.advertisementThe police have also requested access to prior emails that Preity claims she had sent, warning Ness to back off. Quite far removed from the actor who publicly took on the mafia, Preity accuses Ness of pulling her arm and mouthing obscenities at her in full public view at the IPL Qualifier 2 held at Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai on May 30. Even as gangster Ravi Pujari claims to intervene on her behalf with the Wadias, via a number traceable to Iran, anti-extortion police are investigating if he was acting independently.Preity answered “wrong number” when INDIA TODAY called her and didn’t respond to text messages but her lawyer confirmed that the actor is directly in touch with Mumbai Police on the details of the case. She subsequently tweeted from her account to clarify: “A big Thank U 2all the people 4the support. Amazed at how much speculation in the media. No I’m not selling my stake or settling in the US.” and “So called sources says anything & its getting reported. Pls No hearsay. There are many IMP Issues in India which are much more news worthy.”The Wadias, an old-world reclusive part of Mumbai’s high society, have countered the claims saying the two had a spat caused by her refusal to save reserved seats for his mother, Maureen Wadia, and nephew, as Preity did not want to sit next to them. The Wadias had arrived late as it was Ness’s birthday and found their seats occupied by Preity’s entourage. Angered at seeing his mother standing for 20 minutes, Ness snapped.The case has pulled much of Bollywood and sporting society into its ambit, with many annoyed at having to take sides. Arjun Tendulkar, son of Sachin Tendulkar, was supposedly in the VIP enclosure and at the receiving end of a few of Ness’s obscenities. IPL COO Sundar Raman confirmed to investigators that Preity had verbally complained to him about the incident but declined information as he did not witness it; he told police that he had asked the actor to “deal with it calmly later”.Businessman Danish Kanaujia and two Wankhede employees stationed at the Garware Pavilion have reportedly given eyewitness statements. Celebrity journalists Tavleen Singh and Shobhaa De have publicly debated the merits of women of privilege seeking police help for verbal abuse.Preity and Ness with Kings XI Punjab cheergirls. Friends of both parties, like model Indrani Dasgupta, who is engaged to the Kings XI Punjab co-owner Karan Paul, of the Apeejay Group, and Lisa Haydon, former girlfriend of one of Ness’s oldest and closest friends Karan Bhojwani, have been pulled into society speculation.Legal sources have also claimed that negotiations are on to buy out Preity’s 23 per cent stake in Kings XI Punjab, which turned profitable in 2014 for the first time and was estimated to have a brand valuation of $32 million by Mumbai-based firm American Appraisal; the franchise was valued at $76 million when it was first bought in 2008. A newspaper report has claimed that Preity is looking to sell and move to the US. A Wadia group spokesperson confirmed that “the option to sell stakes will be on the table in future.” However, highly placed legal sources close to the Wadias also claim that Preity got wind of their move to cut their losses and divest their stake in the IPL next season and panicked. All Kings XI Punjab owners-Dabur’s Mohit Burman and the Wadias- barring Preity have attempted to jettison their stake at some point. Without the IPL, Preity has nothing, the legal sources claim.advertisementWith Mumbai’s legal community condemning the application of Section 354, which pertains to assault or criminal force used to outrage the modesty of a woman, Preity’s lawyer has clarified they have not mentioned sexual assault, only physical and verbal abuse.Friends of the Wadias claim Preity is still not over Ness, though their relationship ended five years ago and he is soon to be engaged to a mysterious lady love. “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned,” a top society lawyer close to the Wadias says. Preity’s friends have countered saying it was she who walked out of an abusive relationship. How did a one-time fairy-tale romance between a bubbly actor at her peak and a most eligible bachelor reach such divisive and disastrously public proportions? The saga began soon after December 2004, when Preity survived the Indian Ocean tsunami, waking in Thailand to the sound of crashing waves that took the lives of a few of her closest childhood friends; she escaped traumatised. It was a time when she seemed blessed. It had been a good two years; by 2004, Preity was a blockbuster heroine: Koi… Mil Gaya did Rs 80 crore at the box office, Kal Ho Naa Ho raked in Rs 93 crore, while Veer-Zaara wowed both Indian and Pakistani audiences as it collected Rs 88 crore. Preity came off those years on a high, and into the arms of the heir to the Bombay Dyeing estate and great grandson of Mohammed Ali Jinnah, Ness Wadia. Ness himself was no rookie to Bollywood or its stars; South Mumbai sources tell of his teenage crush on Ameesha Patel, whom he met at a gym. The two would exchange love notes and he would shower her with presents. His list of alleged dalliances included Manisha Koirala and Lara Dutta. Preity had lived in with Dutch engineer Lars Kjeldson, who is now married to actor Suchitra Pillai, and choreographer Marc Robinson. But when Preity and Ness met in February 2005 at a party, they were beautiful, successful, and seemingly made for each other.Contrary to popular opinion, when the two first started dating, just before Preity’s 30th birthday, bonding over travel and sport, Ness’s mother didn’t disapprove. “He’s an eligible bachelor, she is an eligible star, yes they are dating and as a mother I can only say my son is handsome, and they seem very equal, very well-matched,” soon-to-turn-spoilsport Maureen told Zee News at the time. Salaam Namaste had just released and Ness had made a blinkand-you-miss appearance as a man on the bus reading a paper, so lovelorn that he invented business appointments in Australia to be able to spend time with Preity on set. “We are going places all right… Ness is a very special person in my life, he makes me laugh and smile. I am in a very beautiful phase of my life,” Preity said in February 2005. Two months later, the couple visited the Vaishno Devi Shrine along with Preity’s mother Neelprabha Zinta, sparking rumours that a wedding was imminent with Ness sitting in on the aarti to make his mother-in-law-to-be happy.advertisementThey were the kind of couple that did things together. That year, on Independence Day, they launched a cleanliness drive, donating 15 dustbins to the suburb of Bandra, only to find them promptly stolen. If Preity went to New York right after to shoot for Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna, her puppy love followed, with the duo stopping to spend time together on a holiday in Europe on the way back. Even as Ness remained increasingly absent from Mumbai, his brother Jeh, then 32, the original wild child, hung up his party boots and took over the family businesses, launching GoAir that year. Preity was clearly part of the family at the time, with Jeh quipping that he hoped she would be a brand ambassador for the low-cost carrier for free. Maureen’s influence became clear as Preity metamorphosed from a jeans-clad girl into a hat-andglove-sporting derby socialite.Flaunting it and happy-Preity had always claimed she would shout it from the rooftops if she was in love-trouble soon struck. In July 2005, Hindustan Times launched in Mumbai, printing transcripts between actor Salman Khan and his one-time girlfriend Aishwarya Rai, taped in August 2001, a time when Mumbai Police was monitoring the nexus between film stars and gangsters. In it, Salman made boastful sexual allegations about a person identified as Preity. She was in Italy at the time and made several frantic calls to convince her beau that the allegations weren’t true, including to close friend Aishwarya to find out if the tapes were doctored. Aishwarya reportedly told her that they weren’t. Preity sued the newspaper for defamation and obtained a clean chit from a forensic laboratory. It is telling of Preity’s ability to forgive and forge relationships that she went on to shoot Jaan-E-Mann with Salman, and he remains one of her closest friends, as does Aishwarya, whose wedding to Abhishek Bachchan she attended with Ness in 2007. But in 2006, public appearances declined and rumours began to swirl. The couple got over the incident but it had shaken them. Jeh Wadia had taken over as Bombay Dyeing MD. Ness was focusing on mill lands, a legal battle with the B.K. Birla family over the Century Mills complex and handling the redevelopment of Spring Mills. Both Preity and Maureen, who was coping with spondylitis alongside managing the newly introduced Mrs Gladrags contests, issued interviews in which they stated they “looked up to each other”.But other kinds of rumours were swirling around; that the couple was getting sucked into a wilder lifestyle. In 2007, singer-actor Suchitra Krishnamoorthi blamed Preity for her own split with director-husband Shekhar Kapur, claiming the two had had an affair. Krishnamoorthi told Mid-Day in March 2007 that Preity had called her up to clarify she was marrying Ness and that she had asked Kapur to give her away at the wedding. Ness and Preity were spotted having a blast at liquor baron Vijay Mallya’s yacht party ahead of the Turkish Grand Prix and at the Louis Vuitton Cup in Valencia, Spain, in June 2007. Rumours of distancing from the matriarch had set in-Maureen had made the now-infamous remark that she didn’t care if her son “married a Zinta or a zebra”.Preity and Ness with Mohit Burman.Once Jhoom Barabar Jhoom, her last mainstream film of the year, flopped, Preity began to change her image. She moved away from the Yash Raj label, opted for films like Rituparno Ghosh’s The Last Lear, and launched her own production house, beginning to position herself as a businesswoman fashioned after the family she would now be a part of. She stopped partying with the Khans, and was seen at races like the CN Wadia Cup horse race and charity events intent on leaving her filmi ways behind. She and Ness were planning their IPL venture. Preity took over creatives, handling uniforms, promotions, anthems. Ness handled the business and logistics. Ness dubbed her “the spirit of the team”.Priyanka Chopra, Kareena Kapoor and Katrina Kaif quickly filled the acting space she was vacating. When the duo made an appearance hand-in-hand at the Aishwarya-Abhishek wedding in April 2007 and the Elizabeth Hurley-Arun Nayar wedding in June, it again fuelled rumours that they would be next to tie the knot. In October, Jeh Wadia clarified Maureen’s remark saying “Preity is definitely a part of our family. In fact, it is a pleasure to have her in our family”. The next month, Preity and Ness were spotted in Shillong in the audience at the concert of her favourite band Mr Big. She was shooting for Jahnu Barua’s Har Pal.It was however during the making of Deepa Mehta’s Heaven on Earth, a film on domestic abuse for which Preity met with several Canadian victims of violence, that she experienced a near epiphany and began to let go of what was increasingly becoming an abusive relationship, says a close friend. In April 2008, Bollywood insiders and gossip columnists claimed that Ness slapped Preity at the screening of the film, renamed Videsh in Hindi, apparently angered that she was trying to send him a ‘message’ via the film, which she was rumoured to have taken in order to confront the issue. Their fights and subsequent patch-ups were getting routine now. In 2008, even as Preity and Ness forged an IPL partnership together, she bit the bullet. By 2009, it was done. Preity was to later tell Savvy magazine that she had made the decision to walk. In a depressed state-she told People magazine she was “mentally and physically exhausted”-she chose to travel, spending time with her family, her younger brother Manish Zinta, who lived with his then four-year-old daughter Maya in Los Angeles; her childhood friend and classmate from Shimla, Sangrur Congressman Arvind Khanna’s wife Shagun; and also hanging out with star wives such as Malaika Arora Khan and Gauri Khan in London. She spent time with designer Surily Goel in Paris. When the holiday extended into a general absence, she told people she was recovering from a ski accident.By December 2009, determined to take her role as the only woman owner of an IPL team at the time seriously, she enrolled for a short executive course in negotiating and dealmaking at Harvard University. Preity was talking politics, campaigning for the Congress in Kanpur for Sriprakash Jaiswal, and happily single. Ness and she originally signed up to a partnership in which each held 23 per cent, Mohit Burmanowned Windy Investments held 11.5 per cent, Mohit’s brother Gaurav Burman (also IPL chief Lalit Modi’s step son-in-law) owned 23 per cent; Karan Paul held 4 per cent, Shagun Khanna-owned Root Investments held 4 per cent, among others.Had they married unaffected by circumstances, Preity would have gone on to be a trophy wife in the VIP box, while Ness and Mohit would have handled the bulk of the business. Now, things were proving otherwise with the reinvented Preity. She was everywhere, at IPL auctions, in the dugout, at press conferences, with the team and players’ wives. In the 2009 season of IPL, Ness, who was by now dating Thapar Group heiress Ayesha Thapar, was getting into brawls at the VIP box while Preity stuck firmly to the dugout. The private security guards of South African businessman Ajay Gupta of the Sahara Group, a friend of the country’s President Jacob Zuma, thrashed Ness and Mohit Burman in the VIP box, Hindustan Times and The Times of India reported quoting agency reports, after Mohit Burman, it was alleged, had jabbed a woman spectator, Gupta’s daughter, with a Kings XI Punjab flagpole, demanding she get out of his line of vision. Ness and Mohit would have been deported if not for the intervention of Lalit Modi, who set up a meeting and insisted that the two apologise in person and in writing.The professional partnership lumbered on, despite rumours of a split. In 2010, a Chandigarh court issued nonbailable warrants against Ness, Preity and Mohit for failing to appear before it on complaints of not filing balance sheets and income-tax returns since Kings XI Punjab came into existence; Karan Paul had appeared before the court. The franchise was in financial doldrums and a move to make Rs 214.6 crore from a Rs 598 crore private placement of shares from Kolkata-based NVD Solar through a three-year contract came under the government scanner for irregularities.Kings XI Punjab then filed a criminal complaint accusing NVD Solar of reneging on payments to the tune of Rs 14 crore and bounced cheques of Rs 25 crore each via fake accounts. Preity, it was rumoured, meanwhile, struggled even more than Ness financially, having neglected her career during their romance. She sued the family of deceased producer Kamal Amrohi for interest and the return of the Rs 2 crore that she had loaned the family. There were rumours that she had put her decadelong home, Quantum Apartments in Khar, up for rent though she denied it vehemently. She raised Rs 10 crore in loans for her 2013 comeback film Ishqk in Paris from the Central Bank of India but the movie tanked at the box office, raking in only around Rs 3 crore. Preity paid the unit hands first but scriptwriter Abbas Tyrewala slapped her with a lawsuit asking for the payment of Rs 18 lakh. Preity contested the bill and claimed that she had paid everyone she owed money to. The case is still sub-judice. Finally, after seven years and despite losing in the IPL final this year, Kings XI Punjab showed a profit of Rs 78.01 lakh. The media attributed a part of the success to Preity. On the field she was one of the boys, a backslapping, hands-on team owner, maintaining a closeness and camaraderie unlike other team owners, who kept their celebrity distance.Off the field, if Preity’s allegations are true, she has remained Ness’s verbal punching bag. An emotional Preity has now asked for restitution under sections 354, 504 and 506 of the IPC. Each deal with outraging the modesty of a woman. Rumours swirl that the one-time couple is now in negotiations for her stake in the team to be bought out. That Preity, now thoroughly defeated, will give up the fight, sell her stake, and fed up of the Indian media and public prying, with the increasing murkiness of the IPL tournament, its alleged links with the underworld and unsavoury elements, move to Los Angeles to live with her brother.Would she who brooked no defeat from the mafia or tsunami or financial loss give up a finally triumphing team over verbal abuse and a seat she denied a co-owner? The answers again are with Police Chief Rakesh Maria as he pulls in witnesses for questioning. Perhaps life does come full circle, after all.