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Irrfan Khan And Sushant Singh Rajput: How Bollywood’s Loss United Us And Then Ripped Us Apart

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The year 2020 was tough on every single person and business, but it seemed exceptionally merciless towards one business in particular – Bollywood. It wasn’t just the shutting down of theatres and cancellation of shooting schedules that hurt the industry only. It courted one controversy after another and had to bear the grief of losing many talented people. Veteran actor Rishi Kapoor, choreographer Saroj Khan, singer S P Balasubrahmanyam, music director Wajid Khan and directors Basu Chatterjee and Nishikant Kamat are just a few noted names among many others that left us. However, two losses that left everyone gutted, and somehow the tragedy felt personal when we were faced with the demise of Irrfan Khan and Sushant Singh Rajput.

Also Read: Bollywood’s Top Stars Hardly Speak For Women. But Irrfan Khan Did.

Irrfan Khan passed away on April 29 this year in Mumbai at the age of 54. The actor had been diagnosed with a neuroendocrine tumour in 2018 and since had been under treatment in India and overseas. While he found success and fame quite late in his career, everybody loved Irrfan. One couldn’t get enough of The Lunchbox actor whose command over his craft reflected the struggle that he had endured. There was this affability that he brought to every character he played, be it as Raj Batra the hassled husband and father who wants to enrol his only daughter into the city’s top English medium school, or as Rana in Piku, where his body language emoted ten times more than any parkouring star of today while spending half the film’s time clipped to a car’s driving seat, or as the flirty and cheerful Yogi in Qarib Qarib Singlle making for an unconventional but charming lead, we never knew we deserved. His stupid line ‘… Aur Latte lana, apni latein mat le ana’ still makes me chuckle, simply because of the way he has delivered it.

No wonder then, that we were all bound by grief when we lost the seasoned actor. For months I would see an Irrfan film play on television, get lost in his performance and then suddenly remember that the actor was no more. There are some deaths that a mourned for ages, Irrfan’s passing is one of them. A talent has gone too soon, an actor whose work we didn’t have enough of, we couldn’t have had enough of.

Another such actor, who we lost prematurely is Sushant Singh Rajput, who was found hanging in his apartment on June 14. He was 32 and left us a filmography of just 11 films. His last film Dil Bechara had an OTT release posthumously uniting the nation in mourning him. As I write this article, I am listening to Tare Gin, a melodious AR Rehman track from the film, which starts on a magical note and towards the end is enveloped in this bittersweet melancholy that leaves you aching. Can the same be said about Rajput’s legacy?

Also Read: Six Months And We Still Miss Him, Here’s Looking At Some Of Sushant Singh Rajput’s Best Performances

Somehow Rajput’s death left us feeling angry and bewildered. Was it because he reportedly died by suicide and was battling mental health issues, something which remains a taboo even today in Indian society? Or was it because we were not prepared for the loss? Or was it because of Rajput’s alleged death by suicide, despite having achieved an enviable level of success, challenged the idea of making it big and living the best life that we all have in India? Or was it because the Indian media fuelled a titillating scandal shamelessly for TRP, which shall forever mar the actor’s legacy?

The way we reacted to his death was not about losing Rajput, but how we lost him. It tells us how unprepared we are to have crucial mental health conversation in our country, and how we do not take it kindly when our idea of success or an “ideal boy” stands challenged. Even today we cannot accept flaws and faults in the stars we revere. Irrfan led a life far from controversy, working hard, raising two sons and bringing pride to India. He left a legacy of rich art and worldwide fame in his wake. So did Rajput, but we are simply too busy covering up the chinks in his armour to look at the larger picture, to admire the beauty in his imperfections.

Also Read: Five Feel Good Videos From 2020 That Made This Lousy Year Bearable

Legacy is often a sanitised version of a life that a person led. We see this sort of whitewashing often with artists who courted controversy, committed unforgivable crimes or simply did things our society didn’t approve of. Their faults are as much a part of their identity as their strengths. If we learn to accept that, would it make our lives easier? Would young actors be then able to speak freely about the crushing stress that they have to endure because of the pressure to succeed?

There can be no other Irrfan Khan, there’s no doubt about that. But if the film industry and those who sustain it (us the viewers) watch our ways, perhaps we can make sure that there is no other Sushant Singh Rajput.

The views expressed are the author’s own.

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Irrfan Khan And Sushant Singh Rajput: How Bollywood’s Loss United Us And Then Ripped Us Apart
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