Thriller based on the true stalking murder of Berkeley student Tanya Tarasoff in 1969 by an obsessed graduate student, and the legal case that changed U.S. doctor-patient confidentiality laws.
One night Tanya goes to a party at International House on campus and meets a young graduate student from India, PROSENJIT PODDAR. She has a casual date with him but is not really interested.
But Poddar is different: although a genius who has risen from the “Untouchable” caste to become a graduate student in Naval Architecture at Berkeley, he becomes mentally unhinged. Over the months, he grows increasingly frustrated, anguished and enraged at Tanya’s rejection. He begins to stalk and threaten her.
As Poddar’s attentions go from merely annoying to frightening, Tanya tries to avoid him—which only fuels his obsession. In the nineteen-sixties, there is virtually no protective legislation. When Poddar threatens to tell her family that she is not a virgin, Tanya becomes too intimidated to seek her father’s protection.
At some point, Poddar realizes that he is mentally ill and losing the great opportunity of his education. He visits a psychiatrist at the UC Berkeley student hospital.
He also moves in with Tanya's unsuspecting brother. But Tanya, terrified that Poddar will reveal her daring life does not confide in her brother.
In the course of his psychiatrist visits, he confides that he is thinking about killing Tanya. Alarmed, the psychiatrist places Poddar on a hold in the university hospital.
Now the psychiatrist takes a pivotal step. He calls Tanya to warn her—a violation of the sacrosanct doctor-patient privilege.
When Poddar gets out of the hospital, his condition rapidly deteriorates. He decides to act.
He visits her parents’ home and knocks at the door. The mother tells him to go away. Later, however, the mother is gone and Poddar knocks at the door again. This time it is Tanya who opens it.
Poddar forces his way past the door, stabs her eleven times, and shoots her. Tanya dies in the arms of her neighbors. Poddar enters her house and calls the police himself.
At the criminal trial, a clever defense attorney weaves a tale that Tanya had "led Poddar on." The prosecutor is unable to see justice done.
Poddar is given a light sentence for manslaughter, although he had plotted the murder for months.
But it is the subsequent civil case, Tarasoff versus the Regents of the University of California that makes a profound, lasting legal impact, .
When Tanya’s devastated parents sue the University, the issue emerges front and center: Does a doctor have the right when a patient is threatening somebody's life, to break the sacrosanct doctor-patient confidentiality and warn the intended victim?
This concept propels the case all the way to the California Supreme Court: Tarasoff becomes a landmark that underlies changes in the law and the "duty to warn." Tarasoff is now studied extensively in all law schools. It has probably saved many lives.
Poddar gets out of prison after a short sentence and leaves the country. He still lives in India with his family.
I wrote the feature film, Murder in Fashion, about the killing of designer Gianni Versace by serial killer Andrew Cunanan. The film played at theatres and festivals and was reviewed in the NY Times: https://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/22/movies/22murder.html?_r=0
I collaborated with producer Don Murphy (Transformers, Natural Born Killers) on the script "Fast Fade" on the life of tragic film noir actress Barbra Payton.