While away from the studio arc lights and outdoor locales, he would quietly climb to the roof of his apartment and use his telescope to star-gaze. His endless questions on the laws of Quantum Physics and his attempts to explore its links, if any, with mysticism would sometimes leave filmmaker Shekhar Kapur speechless. His last Instagram post — that talks about a ‘fleeting life’ trying to ‘negotiate’ its options between a ‘blurred past’ and ‘dreams carving an arc of smile’ — offers vignettes of an existential prolegomena that probably drew him to a point of no-return.
But we prefer to label Bollywood actor Sushant Singh Rajput a ‘victim’ of clinical depression and let him peacefully die a violent death!
For an industry that has for ages taken ‘pride’ in its dalliance with nepotism, for an industry that gloats its ability to spot and nurture talent often through the prism of a surname or lineage, for an industry that’s a masterclass on turning its award ceremonies into a mutual admiration society for those with vested interests, for such an industry, people like Rajput are cannon fodder, collateral damage ...
The outpourings of grief and condolences from his industry co-workers on social media notwithstanding, the death of Rajput, all of 34, who committed suicide at his Bandra residence on Sunday afternoon, is yet another instance of the very industry he worked for failing him — just as the hazy Mumbai skyline hardly ever allowed the ambitious actor, who rose from the dustbowl of India’s hinterlands, a clear glimpse of the celestial order.
A couldn’t-care-less attitude
Come on Bollywood, stop shedding those crocodile tears for a death that’s as much a result of mental turmoil as it is the likely fallout of a non-chalance, couldn’t-care-less attitude towards someone who was a part of the world’s second-largest entertainment industry in his own right and not because he had a surname or a Bollywood lineage to brag about in his CV. It is high time an industry that churns out $2.83 billion (Dh10.48 billion) of revenue annually realises that merely attributing a suicide to ‘clinical depression’ is an ostrich mentality that will take Bollywood only as far as the next lurking suicide.
And don’t be surprised or shocked by a Kangna Ranaut or a Manoj Bajpayee or a Shekhar Kapur openly and rather brazenly holding a section of industry insiders’ heartlessness and insensitivity responsible for Rajput’s untimely demise.
For an industry that has for ages taken ‘pride’ in its dalliance with nepotism, for an industry that gloats its ability to spot and nurture talent often through the prism of a surname or lineage, for an industry that’s a masterclass on turning its award ceremonies into a mutual admiration society for those with vested interests, for such an industry, people like Rajput are cannon fodder, collateral damage that can be best condoled through social media posts and safely forgotten for the next premiere night.
This is the same Bollywood that bends over backwards to stand by the members of its coterie, a carefully-curated circle of ‘insiders’ that decides whom to promote and whom to deride, depending upon which side of the bread is buttered. This is the same Bollywood that takes a swipe at a playback singer for having turned up at an awards night in his flip-flops, but doesn’t care two hoots even when there are tell-tale signs of despondence in an actor’s social media posts for almost six months.
Riding roughshod over dreams
So every time a Rajput — and countless others like him who had made it big in B-Town without a family name to boast — commits suicide, remember, there’s a larger damage that is inflicted — silently, but definitively. All these deaths are affirmations of not just a ruthless industry letting some of its talented foot soldiers fall by the wayside in the larger battle for name and fame, but it’s also a sign of an industry riding roughshod on the dreams and hopes nurtured by those millions in small towns and Tier 2 and 3 cities for whom the silver screen in general and Bollywood in particular is a vehicle to wish fulfilment in figurative terms.
Follow that star
When Amitabh Bachchan was making his maiden political pitch as the Congress candidate from Allahabad in December 1984, a political correspondent from Kolkata, who was in Allahabad to cover the elections, wrote in his dispatch that the very first person in the queue at one of the polling stations had a hairstyle that was a replica of ‘Big B’s’ iconic hairdo. There was perhaps a ‘Bachchan’ in that young man whose dreams would definitely have taken a bashing with this Rajput’s death. There was this domestic help called Roshni [name changed] at my hostel in New Delhi who hailed from a village in Rajasthan. She would never miss the latest Madhuri Dixit release to hit the screens. When a Jiah Khan takes her life or a Divya Bharti allegedly jumps to her death, perhaps with them, there are countless Roshnis whose aspirations die a hundred deaths too.
Angst of living and dying
Of course Bollywood stars have their die-hard fans among Metro India too, but the angst of living and dying in the throes of poverty, the urge to keep the fire burning in the midst of a skewed social order steeped in caste-bias, the ambition to tide over the odds in the quest for a bigger, better tomorrow can never be felt, can never be manifest in such raw, rudimentary, existentialist terms as felt through lived-experiences in the hinterlands, in the dust bowls of the world’s second-most populous nation. To give just one example and help put things in perspective, 80 per cent of India’s total workforce even until this date comprises daily wage earners who are mostly from rural India.
That is why when Manoj Bajpayee talks about the ‘anger’ in the man on the street over Rajput’s death, it’s a clear reference to the angst, the frustration of these minions for whom even one Sushant Singh Rajput from a non-Metro like Patna is worth ten text-book cases of a social hero.
Death of a resolve
The villain-punching, on-screen heroics that Bollywood churns out day in and day out help ‘transport’ millions, who do not even have access to two square meals a day, to ‘moksha’. It is an aphrodisiac of sorts that allows them to transcend the sheer pain of survival. In that sense Bollywood is transcendental, Bollywood is uplifting, Bollywood is belligerence to defy the odds. But every time a Sushant Singh Rajput dies, that belligerence, that desire, that resolve dies a silent death too.
So instead of sharing those faux emotions for mass consumption, think Bollywood, think. Ask yourself this question: Did you really deserve a Rajput?