Mumbai: Bollywood actor Kangana Ranaut waves as she arrives at her office, where the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation conducted a demolition drive, at Pali Hill in Mumbai, Thursday, Sept. 10, 2020. Image Credit: AFP

For the last month or so, a theatre of the absurd is being played out in a section of the Indian media over the death of Bollywood actor Sushant Singh Rajput and the allegations and counter-allegations surrounding his former girlfriend Rhea Chakraborty.

With the investigations into the unnatural death of Sushant having been taken over by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), the federal investigative agency, after much haggling over jurisprudence and charges and counter-charges of the probe being influenced by people with vested interests, the least that one had expected was that the canards that were flying around and the kite-flying that was going on in the name of a fair probe and trial to subside and the sleuths to get down to the task at hand — getting to the bottom of the truth.

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Instead, what has transpired in the last month or so is a vituperative campaign of hate and distrust aimed at each other by those who are at loggerheads over Rhea’s alleged and presumed role in Sushant’s death. This trial by the media has reached such a fever pitch that a subplot — that of another Bollywood actress, Kangna Ranaut’s fight with the ruling Shiv Sena in Maharashtra — is now front and centre. We are in a bizarre scenario whereby if you are to buy into any one of the many theories that are doing the rounds over Sushant’s death and Rhea’s alleged role in pushing him to the brink, then you will be forced into taking a stand in the Kangna-Shiv Sena spat as well — as a buy-one-get-one!

No holds-barred slanging match

This is as much ridiculous as it is damaging because in the cacophony of allegations and counter-allegations, doubts and aspersions, an eye-for-an eye no holds-barred slanging match between the actress and the ruling party in Maharashtra and the municipal body in Mumbai that took down the actress’ office structure on the claim that it was built in violation of civic law, the real issue on our hands has already got diluted: That of getting to the truth behind the death of Sushant. Already we had the media trials of Rhea holding a nation’s conscience to ransom with its attempt to unravel the ‘truth’ behind Sushant’s reported suicide, whereby, the entire issue has now boiled down to an unsavoury ‘you-are-either-with-us-or-against-us’.

What the entire saga over the death of a popular and talented Bollywood actor has unravelled over the last three months is our penchant for building imaginary battlefields and populate them with the heroes and even villains of our choice.

- Sanjib Kumar Das

Over and above that, we now have the added baggage of another contest, that of Kangna’s ‘fight for justice’ against the Shiv Sena as a sub-plot within a sub-plot to tie us in a few more knots instead of helping untie the ones that are already there. Insensitive comments by Shiv Sena leader Sanjay Raut against Kangna have been a further affront to the ethos of freedom of speech as enshrined in the Indian Constitution and a sorry tale of how a section of the political class in the world’s largest democracy loves to feed itself and even gloat on a skewed sense of entitlement and empowerment.

Drug-glamour nexus

With the Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) playing a very important role in dealing with a tertiary sector of Sushant’s death — that of the drug-glamour nexus in a section of the world’s largest film producing industry — one had thought that a hitherto taboo subject had finally been brought out of the closet and would finally be taken to the launderer. In reality, unfortunately, what has unfolded before our eyes is a baffling and a rather inexplicable tendency to hold Rhea guilty of having played a role in her former boyfriend’s unnatural death.

Mind you, this is by no means an attempt to defend Rhea out of turn. If she is indeed found to have had a role in the drug peddlers finding some lucrative clients in the glamour world, along with several other names from the tinsel world that have also come up during the course of the probe, then all of them need to be dealt with the full face of the law without any fear or favour whatsoever. In fact that is the reason why have a probe at all in the first place. But jumping to conclusions, holding a public opinion-based trial on prime-time television and acting judge-jury-and-executioner as a self-appointed voice-of-the-nation of sorts — even before any charge sheet is filed against anyone in this grisly case — is an unfortunate and gross violation of not only moral values but also that of India’s centuries’-old tradition of aiding and abetting an open and more reason-based debate and not just a slanging match of point-counter point.

Truth, the collateral

What the entire saga over the death of a popular and talented Bollywood actor has unravelled over the last three months is our penchant for building imaginary battlefields and populate them with the heroes and even villains of our choice. To take any debate, any discussion further, we need some element of fear-mongering, we need to feed our own sense of entitlement and most of all – we need a punching bag to boost our own ego. And in the bargain, truth could well be a collateral!

Twitter: @moumiayush