How Sushant Singh Rajput died twice

Updated: Jun 24, 2020, 07:35 IST | Mayank Shekhar | Mumbai

Moral of the actor's story? Let us frame a moral first (nepotism, for one), and then start chasing a story that will fit into it!.

Sushant Singh Rajput in a still from the film Detective Byomkesh Bakshy. File pic
Sushant Singh Rajput in a still from the film Detective Byomkesh Bakshy. File pic

Mayank ShekharIn an interview, director Abhishek Kapoor, who worked with Sushant Singh Rajput on his first role in a film (Kai Po Che, in 2013), says he found Rajput to be someone still seeking validation. From whom? He didn't specify and wasn't asked.

It's just that as a filmmaker, Kapoor found himself in no position to score magazine covers for him, during/post-Kedarnath (2018), their second film together. And that was his personal failing. Rajput's ex-publicist Rohini Iyer, also self-admittedly his best-friend, (rightly) said he couldn't care two hoots about validation. That he was way above seeking out fake friends, among film folk in the first place.

I distinctly recall Rajput's publicist, before Iyer, in 2016, spending a while discussing with me how the actor had been unfairly shafted, despite the success of the biopic MS Dhoni: The Untold Story. Its commercial success was being wholly credited to Dhoni, the true-life subject/character/story, rather than the lead actor.

What did Rajput think of the idea of success himself? Citing the term "impact bias", he told me, "There was an experiment done with two groups of people — an extremely bright set of CEOs in their early 20s/30s. And people below the poverty line. The first group, for some reason, had become disabled — paraplegics. The second group had just won a million-dollar lottery. There was a downward mental-spike (ebb) recorded in the first group. And an equally upward spike in the second.

"Only 10 to 12 weeks later, when the same two groups were tested, their mental spikes had stabilised to exactly the same levels already. This tells you successes or failures actually don't affect us in the same way we imagine they do. If you enjoy a process itself though, you get so good at the skill, that it automatically places you in the top percentile of people on the (satisfaction/happiness) index."

As life's lessons go, this one, by a 31-year-old (when I interviewed him), is as sorted as it gets. By all accounts, Rajput was diagnosed with clinical depression at 34. Young star, rich, talented, famous, with millions of followers, online; mobs surrounding the person offline… Depressed? Why; for what!

That's precisely the question you would've noticed people ask when Deepika Padukone first publicly revealed the same mental condition she had battled with. What's Deepika gotta do with depression? Tells you much about how we, as a society, estimate the Himalayan strength and happiness derived from professional success alone, or popularity thereof. It's bollocks, before darkness within.

But people knew Rajput only for his work on screen. Which, in a strange way, allows viewers/fans a level of familiarity to feel anywhere between foe, and family, on a scale of zero to 10 — about a person they have never met, and probably would have never known.

And therefore some of the same folk who wouldn't have thought for a second, before trolling Rajput himself, went after certain actors and producers (Karan Johar, Aditya Chopra, Alia Bhatt, etc). Totally unmindful of what impact guilt-tripping someone for a death could have on the mental health of those alive!

They assumed professional problems must've driven Rajput to death. What was the issue being raised? Nepotism in Bollywood. For a Patna-born, who owes his career to showbiz titans — a top TV producer (Ekta Kapoor), a heavyweight film producer (UTV, Ronnie Screwvala). None of whom were related to him. And who saw his worth/talent, and gave him a job. That's all we need to float anyway.

The word nepotism is derived from reference to the Pope's nephew. Except, unlike popular belief, showbiz/Bollywood isn't a church/papacy. Let alone a city, state, or a government department — it's not even an "industry", compared to the best, although that's what it's ironically referred to in short. It's a terribly loose federation of freelance artistes and entrepreneurs, driven by self-interest, owing nothing to the tax-payer or the random handle on Twitter.

Oh, you can choose not to watch a Karan Johar film, starring Alia Bhatt and Varun Dhawan, if you like. If it's a good film, the loss is yours. In any case, the three aren't related. He has no direct nieces/nephews, to the best of my knowledge. Even if there were, Johar (or anybody else) is free to cast who he likes, given his own reasons (commercial/otherwise), for a film that he wants to make!

Besides the masala to distract from real issues, what's the masla (issue) here, really? Rajput's suicide. Most saw in it the image of Rohith Vemula. Yet others, a shoulder to target their own star/producer from a decade ago. Or settle some other ongoing personal score elsewhere. Legit, insider grouses from every end as well — no doubt. Some found the opportunity to reveal his relationship woes, in the press, and on YouTube videos ("bell icon par button dabayein").

He said not a word. Before leaving. Could have. If he wanted you to know. People, on the other hand, self-centred enough, even made his death about themselves. Who wants validation from such a world anyway? Convinced that Rajput didn't. None of us should. And this is liberating to know, actually.

Mayank Shekhar attempts to make sense of mass culture. He tweets @mayankw14 Send your feedback to mailbag@mid-day.com

The views expressed in this column are the individual's and don't represent those of the paper

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