2020 is the year of mega happenings! Amid the Corona pandemic and Indo-china skirmishes, the incident which has created the buzz in household and social circles is the death of Bollywood actor Sushant Singh Rathore. The actor was found dead in his Bandra apartment, in Mumbai, last Monday. Prima facie, the cause of death seems to be one of suicide. But the question which looms large among the masses is whether the suicide was circumstantial? Was Sushant a victim of corporatization of Bollywood? Was his death part of a larger conspiracy? These question have popped up more so after outrage from industry insiders; Kangana Ranaut, Abhinav Singh Kashyap, Payal Rohatgi et al dared to raise their voice against the nepotism, favoritism, bullyism and mafiaism being practiced in the Indian entertainment world.
It is well settled and accepted that all has never been well in the show biz industry. Connection with underworld was flourishing since the time of Haji Mastan. Nepotism, harassment and the exploitation of newcomers in the form of casting couch is too well known. Many actresses and actors have frequently complained of casting couch. #Me Too Movement spearheaded by one of the leading actress Tanushree Dutta is a pointer to that end.
The demise of Sushant has once again made alive all the debates and discussions, which remained dormant and suppressed for long. Leading actress Kangana Ranaut vociferously spoke against karan Johar, labeling him as “flag bearer of nepotism” and blaming him for the suicide of Sushant. The role of Johar’s company Yash Raj Films (YRF) is also under scanner. Another actor Kamal Rashid Khan had tweeted much earlier in February this year that certain production houses have designs to sabotage the career of Sushant. The Director of “Dabangg” (2010) fame Anubhav Singh Kashyap also came out in open and described the “toxic work culture” and modus operandi of movie production houses and talent management agencies who work in tandem with certain Bollywood families to control the whole entertainment industry, by means fair or foul, in a “Dabangg” style! Many other cine artists namely Koena Mitra, Prakash Raj and Sahil Khan too joined the party, to portray, what ails the Bollywood.
Conversely, a parallel narrative was also built maligning Sushant Singh Rajput. Mahesh Bhatt and Deepika Padukone, both of them, among many others, termed the case of Sushant as one of “mental illness” and for which Bhatt claimed no remedy! In short, the prodigious star of Bollywood was disowned, the moment he died! The chivalrous behavior of Bollywood was missing!
However, there is a history to the current tail of events. Beginning 70s and 80s, Bollywood was a rather unorganized structure. Mafias, underworld and politicians were investing in Bollywood to earn as well as launder the money; to make it white. The system continued for a while and many a film stars were a victim of these malaise: T-Series’ Gulshan Kumar had to lose his life and actor turned director-producer Rakesh Raushan had a lucky bullet escape outside his office in Mumbai! The situation changed a bit post Mumbai bomb blasts of 1993. In the year 2001, through a governmental notification, films and movies were made eligible for institutional finance. This marked a watershed as the availability of institutional finance ended the huge reliance of Bollywood on ill- gotten money and further paved way for corporatization of Indian entertainment world. With this 2001 notification, the entertainment world formally and legally attained the status of “industry”.
This corporatization led to emergence of big production houses who were in cahoots with the leading families of the Bollywood. These talent management agencies and production houses scouted the talents to monopolize their intellectual property aka stardom through the vicious legal contracts limiting their talent, reach, expanse and career. This colonizing nexus, further, became strong and well entrenched even as to put the dissenting actors’ career in jeopardy. Many an acting talents were rendered jobless by kicking them out of movie projects, lest they agree to fall in line. Some newbies even sailed against the tide. They wanted to work it out through hard work, talent and skill but found it extremely difficult and harassing. The victims either left the industry or were lost in oblivion.
In the similar manner the small town boy Sushant Singh Rajput was trapped. The promising actor in a short span of time gave many hits including Shuddh Desi Romance (2013), PK (2014), Kedarnath (2018), Chhichore (2019) and a biopic on the life of legendary Mahindra Singh Dhoni, among others. Sushant Singh Rajput’s talent was never recognized. He missed the podium and cinematic awards, by miles. Sushant became a victim of casting blues! The actor,seemingly, lapsed into depression, dejection, rejection and medication. As per reports and statements after the movie “Chhichore” (2019) he was kicked out of seven movies and in one particular case became the victim of perfidy perpetuated by the Director/Producer Karan Johar. Reportedly, a movie named “Drive” produced by Karan Johar was released on Netflix, contrary to the expectations, to release the movie on big screen multiplexes.
The issue has subtle legal angle as well; whether to consider the case as one of suicide and close the matter or consider the case as one of abetting to commit suicide and held the suspects liable for the creation of circumstances and imputed negligence which forced Sushant to commit suicide. As luck would have often, the investigative agencies may fail to establish the guilt for want of evidence but one thing is pretty clear that the incident is just the tip of iceberg.
To sum it up, in the Bollywood, which is one of the repository of Indian Art and artistic expressions, as well as a powerful medium of communication, the role of senior members of the fraternity ought to be of a guardian and a mentor. It is the seniors who nourish, supplant and help grow, a budding and promising talent. Those who are protectors are not expected to be devourers. The film industry is the soft power of India and has to behove as such. It will have to emerge responsible, professional and make it count that no Sushant Singh Rajpoot ever meets such fate, in the years to come.