Sushant Singh Rajput’s death hasn’t been easy to process. The aftershock has left everyone rationalising the loss, and the resultant grief is haunting India’s collective conscience with uncomfortable questions that otherwise go unasked. Every condolence or tribute to him that surfaced yesterday, was footnoted with the importance of mental health. However, by night, things took an unexpected, ugly turn. A faction of Twitter called out Karan Johar and Alia Bhatt for their “superficial” tributes to Rajput, blaming them for not being supportive of an “outsider” when he was alive.
In 2013, Johar, on his talk show Koffee with Karan, had hosted Alia Bhatt. In his now-familiar format of the rapid-fire round, he posed three names – Sushant Singh Rajput, Ranveer Singh and Ranbir Kapoor – and asked her to rate them per “kill, marry, hook-up” parameters. To this, Bhatt replied, “Marry Ranbir, kill Sushant, hookup with Ranveer,” following it up with a consolatory, “Sorry Sushant.” Rajput, who had by then already made ripples in the film industry as the titular hero in Kai Po Che, was apparently dismissed with anonymity. Whatever offence fans of the actor, following from his Pavitra Rishta days, must have taken at this insult was overshadowed by Bhatt being trolled for not knowing the name of India’s President which also featured in the same episode.
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Now, clips from the episode are resurfacing once again. This time both Johar and Bhatt are being trolled, not for their ignorance, but sheer insensitivity towards Rajput. Under their media tributes to him, netizens are accusing them of shedding “crocodile tears”.
Everyone, including Johar, hinted that Rajput may have been battling depression for a while now. Hearsay on the internet suggests that the late actor’s outsider status in Bollywood and his pointed exclusion from the glitzy social gatherings that splatter over Instagram every other day inspired his mental illness.
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Dealing with Depression
The nature of depression is such that it often evades clear definition and definite reasons. Until such time that the afflicted person reaches out to someone or consults a professional, it’s hard to ascertain the cause behind their state of mind.
Tearing apart the likes of Johar and Bhatt by abusing and shaming them in the event of their colleague’s death presents a highly warped narrative. Firing them for posting tributes to Rajput is unjustified. Pinning the blame on them is dangerous.
We are not privy to Johar’s internal thoughts. Guilt or general remorse, whatever prompted his outpouring for Rajput should not be put to trial with such blatant blame. Going by the essence of the tributes, the whole of B-Town seems to be waking to the realisation that one text, one call might have changed things – that they could have done better. Pinpointing one person would only mean running opposite to mental health, and away from what you’re preaching.
No One Person can be Blamed
Bollywood exists on a plane that belongs both to its stars and the audience. But we often forget that these stars are not really celestial beings. They’re only human. They are as prone to human error as we are. So the aggression with which we choose to attack them, the hatred with which we tend to hold them accountable, the rage with which we criticise each move they make, is not reasonable.
Earlier today, even actor Kangana Ranaut uploaded a video calling out the hypocrisy of Bollywood, award shows, and the media tripartite. She fumed over the unjust sidelining of “outsiders”, like Rajput and herself, questioning how a film as brilliant as Chhichhore didn’t get any awards.
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The elephant in the room is much bigger
Rajput’s death was not a result of Johar and Bhatt’s game. The elephant in the room is much bigger, eviler. It is the size of the entire system that runs Bollywood. The film industry has always been a mucky place, everyone knows that. It thrives on privilege and is at first resistant to newbies trying to enter its gates. This was even corroborated by Ayushmann Khurana in his autobiography, Cracking the Code, where he mentions that Dharma Productions turned him away when he was a beginner, saying they only worked with stars. Starry egos, exclusive circles, and camps have kept B-Town tightly knit over the years, and actors like Raveena Tandon have openly attested to it. This culture needs reform. If targeting outsiders is actually prevalent in Bollywood, it must be opposed.
The film industry, after all, is just another industry. Its true roots lie not in luxury, but struggle. Remember, the biggest names were all once outsiders – from Madhubala to Aishwarya Rai and Rajesh Khanna to Shah Rukh Khan. Bollywood cannot continue to build on star surnames without welcoming real talent. It simply can’t afford to. It won’t survive.
Of course, star kids are free to follow in their parents’ footsteps; and they will inevitably always have an edge over the newcomers because they ride on a legacy that precedes them. Established directors must begin by foregoing that very edge to put an insider and outsider on the best possible similar footing in the industry. Because in the city of dreams, the smallest dream is as big as the richest one.
The views expressed are the author’s own.