Sushanth Singh Rajput committed a crime on the morning of the 14th. June committed suicide at his house in Bandra, Mumbai. He was 34 years old, the same age as Ranveer Singh, one year older than Varuna Dhavan. The police investigation is still ongoing, but this has not stopped the media from speculating with insensitive sensationalism about possible causes. Images of the body have appeared on television and on WhatsApp. Actress Ankita Lohande, his former partner, recently appeared on Twitter when people were talking about how the end of their six-year relationship had affected the actor. Media attention for the waste collection problem has been exacerbated by the fact that the film industry has used death as an excuse to point the finger and settle scores.
Amidst all this ugliness, my thoughts were set aside by the time of glory when everything was before Rajput. Just over eight years ago he decided to leave television for the cinema: a young man with a soft voice and a promising future. There’s a YouTube video in which he gave an interview on the set of Pavitra Rishta, the show that turned him into a soap star. They say it has to stop, he tells the reporter. Whatever I do, I’ll do it right, I’ll be there with all my heart.
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Sushanth Singh Rajput and Mohammad Samad in Cheechhora (2019).
At what point did Bollywood have to turn to Rajput? He grew up in Patna, Bihar, in a middle-class family. His father was an engineer, he also studied engineering. He had no sponsors in the film industry. He was famous, but famous on television, which means little in Bollywood. He was, in the language of industry, an outsider.
In a Hindi cinema, the actor introduces the sons and daughters of famous amateurs (and lets them start again if they don’t take off first). Everyone can expect to be discovered, be it in modelling, advertising, theatre, dance or television. Shah Rukh Khan is the story of Cinderella, who set in motion a million unreasonable dreams, not one from Delhi, who based his popularity on a movie star. But of the many actors who have turned away from television, only Rajput and Ayushman Khurrana, who started their careers as reality TV participants and presenters, have reached a level close to that of Khan.
Rajput did a little bit of everything at first: He has been a dancer with the Shyamak Dawar Company, studied drama with Barry John and with the Nadira Babbar Ekjut Theatre Company. He began his television career with Kis Desh Mein Hai Meraa Dil and became a star when Ekta Kapoor fought for him to play in another show she produced, Pavitra Rishta. When he left television security in 2011, he looked to the future with an uncertain outlook. Then, as now, there was no shortage of young actors with ties to the Bollywood industry – Ranveer Singh performed with the band Baaja Baaraat (2010), Ranbeer Kapoor played with the band for several years, Varun Dhavan was signed by Karan Johar as student of the year (2013).
Still, Riput’s joining the group couldn’t have been easier. He was discovered by casting director Mukesh Chhabra in a cafe and was brought to the film by Abhishek Kapoor 2013 Kai Po Che! for a lecture in the film. Together with Rajkummar Rao and Amit Sadh, both still fairly new to the business, he performs in the role of Ishaan, a light-hearted rocker who finds his goal in training a young cricketer. The film was a great success and Rajput was the breakthrough. In his performance there was lightness, an innocent masculine charm and a quality that seemed old-fashioned to most actors, but which Rajput created himself: Honesty. He wasn’t the toughest actor, but you believed him because he seemed so serious.
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Sushanth Singh Rajput with Parineti Choproi in Shudd Desi Romance (2013).
His charming run continued. Manichesh Sharma’s novel Shuddh Desi (2013), a spicy comedy in which he plays a rebellious man who is in love with Parinetti Chopra, was next. In Rajkumar Hirani Smash (2014) he played the role of Sarfaraz, a Pakistani who is in love with an Indian woman, a short photo and a short line of Sarfaraz dhoka nahia diya ta (Sarfaraz did not betray you), which became popular across the border. With Detective Yash Raj Films (YRF) Bömkesh Bakshi, a major franchise studio film, and the ambitious Paani Shekhar Kapoor behind him, the future looked very bright.
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Sushant Singh Rajput with M.S. Dhoni: Telling stories (2016).
In Detective Bömkesh Bakshi, Dibakar Banerji’s adaptation of the Bengali detective series, he was a delightful, brilliant, energetic Bömkesh, remarkably smug (unlike your typical incomprehensible glove, this satyanveshi laughs a lot). But the perfectly conceived but ruthlessly designed film of 2015 was a commercial failure. Rajput followed with great success as a former Indian cricket captain at MIT Doni: Telling stories (2016). Then came a period of saving – lack of money in Raabta (2017), average salary in Kedarnath (2018). He left YRF Talent against the background of rumours of a breakup with Aditya Choproi because of Ranvir Singh’s preferential treatment. Paani was also expected for a long time (it never happened) and the projects were rejected at that time.
It’s not so much that he’s had two mediation films in two years. Actors with much worse career plans now work in Hindi cinema. Moreover, even at the height of his fame, Rajput was never considered a real big star. It seems unbelievable at first glance: During his seven-year career, he was the instigator of three big hits and played the leading role in the monstrous fourth. But the popularity of cash registers is not always a guarantee for glory and honour in a city that is wary of talented foreigners.
It takes the talent, energy and hard work of an outsider to convince the public and industry that he is as confident as the average unmotivated and electable elite of the establishment, said Banerji PTI after Riput’s death. This leads to deep anger and disappointment. Those who can make this slide, survive. Those who can’t – those who cause a little more pain or who are vulnerable and sensitive – are at risk.
In a discussion that began a few months after M.S. Dhoni’s release, critic Anupam Chopra Rajput asked him how he ended up in the waters of the Bollywood madhouse. I can’t complain because I have movies I wanted to make, he said. But that doesn’t mean he’s not here…. If you succeed as an outsider, you will be discussed, but in a quiet tone. And people are willing to forget. When asked whether a star is important to him, he answers: If you give it to me, I’ll keep it. But at the same time, if you don’t give them to me, I won’t miss them.
It is hard to imagine that a second or third generation Bollywood actor could express similar feelings. It feels like they’ll miss the stars terribly when they’re gone. But Rajput probably wasn’t as distant from ambition as he thought. When he left engineering school in Delhi to try his hand in my mind, I was already a superstar, he said, Human World. His reaction to Chopra is more of a meticulous grasp of the basics by someone who has been a Bollywood star long enough to know that he couldn’t take success for granted, as some of his colleagues could.
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Sushant Singh Rajput with (left) Rajkummar Rao and Amith Sadh in his first film Kai Po Che!
Director Abhishek Kapoor spoke with feeling for the difference between a newcomer he filmed in Kai Po Che and a star he worked with in Kedarnata. I told him you’re already a star, you don’t need other people to confirm it, he told Shome Chodhuri in an interview on the 16th. June. Kapoor said Raiput was banished from the industry because he was not a typical star. If you don’t fit in our box, we don’t need you. It was a systematic suppression of the vulnerable spirit.
Over the past three years, criticism of Bollywood has increased. Kangana Ranaut caused a sensation in 2017 when she described Karan Johar in her own talk show as the flag bearer of nepotism in the industry. Recently, Siddhant Chaturvedi Gully Boy responded sarcastically to Anani Pandey’s claim that child stars should fight where our dreams come true, where their fight begins. In a country where film families have existed almost since the release of the films, it is a criticism that is easy to get rid of. At the IIFA award ceremony in 2017, Johar, Saif Ali Khan and Warun Dhavan, the second generation, performed a sketch for the absent Ranaut, who ended up singing the stones of nepotism.
After the death of Rajput Jokhar, his producer at Drive, he shared his grief on Instagram (I sometimes felt that you need people to share your life with… but for some reason, I never followed that feeling). Late that night the name of Johars came up on Twitter. Most of the clues were angry memories of cases where he was seen neglecting Rajput – especially during his show in which Aliya Bhatt asked who she was going to kill/marry/sex Ranvier Singh, Ranbier Kapoor and Rajput – decided to kill Sushanth. It was a typical feline and steaming Koffee With Karan moment, with a child star created by Jokhar, a friend of Aditya Chopra – all the concentric circles of the Insider House from which Rajput was excluded. However, it is unfair and irresponsible to link this, like many others, to the death of an actor. The same can be said of the blind objects that Rajput has been drawing for years with so much effort and daring. But these spotlights show where the power lies in Bollywood and who controls it.
On the evening of the 14th. In June, the death call turned into a nepotism cry in Bollywood. Ranaut’s team posted a video online suggesting that Rajput was driven to suicide by the lack of recognition of his talents by the nepotism industry (they also said that the same forces wanted them to commit suicide and that it was Rajput’s fault for listening to them). Sonakshi Singh and Sonam K. Ahuja tweeted, without mentioning Ranaut, about people who use Rajput’s death in their battles. Abhinav Kashyap, the director of Dabang, wrote in a long Facebook post that Salman Khan and his family were trying to ruin his career. Voices were lost in all this and called for a more open discussion about mental health, but also to those who simply wanted to remember Riput without speculating about his death.
NECK ON HEAD
There’s a constant in every Rajput story: He always had a book. It was mainly a scientific book; the actor was mainly interested in astronomy, and in his youth he wanted to become an astronaut (in 2017 he participated in a seminar at NASA and then sponsored two students who visited the American space agency). His Instagram is different from all other Hindi film stars – it is a mix of philosophical reflections and images from telescopes, starry skies and scientific instruments. In his April note, he writes that he learns to code because he loves computer games and wants to learn the language behind them.
Anand Gandhi, director of the ship Theseus, remembered by e-mail how the actor approached him at IFFI 2017 in front of a hotel in Goa and introduced himself. He started quoting me in my conversations and interviews, which he seems to have been through a lot. We shared many of our heroes – (author Richard) Dawkins, (philosopher Daniel) Dennett, (neurologist) U.S. Ramachandran. We had to stand on those stairs and talk for hours. They became friends and planned to collaborate on a film about the global pandemic called Emergence. Over the years, Sushanth has often remembered this performance, according to Gandhi. He’s been talking about it every week for a couple of months. I was sure I could give him a role that would strengthen his personality… an artist in life, a researcher, tireless in his investigations.
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Sushanth Singh Rajput in Sonchuria (2019).
Director Abhishek Chaubei told me that during the shooting of the film Sonchuria (2019) in Dhaulpura, Rajasthan, the actor will spend his free time reading volumes on quantum physics. He wasn’t kidding either. He knew what he was talking about. He even brought a 100-kilogram telescope because astronomical events took place at that time. Rajput tends to talk about something other than film, Chobei said, unlike other stars whose interests rarely extend beyond the realm of cinema. In that respect, he was unique. There aren’t many lunatics in Versailles.
Western Sonkyria is Raiputa’s best film and his most brilliant performance. He plays the valley of Shambhala, a man who begins to doubt his purpose in life and eventually sacrifices himself by helping a woman and a little girl on the run. Surrounded by experienced grunts and grumpy people like Mana Bajpayee, Ranveer Shorey and Ashutosh Rana, Rajput moves convincingly. There’s something desirable about him, Chobei said when asked why he was playing Rajput. He doesn’t have the image of the bandra-juhu that most of our male actors have.
An important part of the character is randomly present. Chobi plans to ask the actor to include Dacoit’s contemplative character in his play. He realized he wasn’t… Rajput’s somewhat distant behavior was ready to be consumed.
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Sushant Singh Rajput in Detective Bemkesh Bakshi! (2015).
Rajput was a hard worker who insisted that the directors take notes and do everything to get into the character’s head. Screenwriter Kanika Dhillon remembers that her 100-page script for Kedarnath became a 300-page document after Raiput added her own notes. It hasn’t disappeared because of the make-up or the accents, but there have been changes in the body language. His Mahendra Singh Doni doesn’t look like a cricketer, but he moves around the pitch just like him. He wisely avoided speaking Hindi with a Bengali accent in Detective Bemkesh Bakshi and instead found a somewhat comical physical form of lithium that would correspond to the detective’s mental agility. With careful directors he could have slipped much into the scene without doing much on the surface. The scene in Shuddh Desi Romance where he wakes up for the first time after a night in Parineeti Chopra’s apartment is a miracle of elusive emotions – a dizzying joy and sexual pride that gives way to confusion and emotional fragility and returns to joy.
Chobi said Rajput was a loner, but an ordinary man with a little air and the atmosphere of the student cafeteria. I heard it would be difficult for him to make all these requests, but none of them came true. This image of Rajput as a hysterical criminal is largely derived from blind objects and unwritten quotes that testify to the power of Bollywood gossip. The actor’s biggest argument was an unfounded rumor that he had harassed his co-star Sanjana Sangha during the filming of The Fault In Our Stars (DNA would quote an anonymous source): Sushanth tried to be very friendly with the newcomer Sanjana Sanga. One day she seemed to feel uncomfortable). The actor rejected the request. Later, Sangy tweeted that the story was neither true nor untrue.
In the last days, the death of former director Raiput on the 8th. In June (the police are investigating whether it was a suicide or a death), right up to his last job at Instagram, everything took on a disturbing tone. So far there are only unconfirmed reports that he was depressed and in treatment. The only references to mental health he seemed to have made were oblique. In an interview with the Hindustan Times in 2017, a comment was made (Who says that actors keep their mental health?) And last year, in a Gillette commercial, he twittered that he didn’t have to put his feelings into words: You can let him out and not keep him in. It’s not a weakness, it’s a sign of strength.
Although the stories of those who knew him are a testimony to Raiputa’s spirit, there is an urgent need for a public debate on fame and mental health. There have already been two teen suicides in Bareily and Patna that are said to have been triggered by Rajput’s death. Deepika Padukone, a rare actress who talks about her fight against mental illness, twittered on the evening of the 14th. June about the importance of joining forces with Zoya Akhtar, Anil Kapoor, Richa Chadha and Shabana Azmi. The fact that many celebrities have portrayed depression as a matter of willpower rather than illness shows how much work remains to be done. However, the best way to honour Raiput’s memory is to work towards a friendlier and more understanding film industry.
In mourning the recent deaths of Irfan Khan and Rishi Kapoor, fans could enjoy their decades of work on the big screen. Rajput left us only ten films from which we can create a mental role: memories of young people like Ishaan, Sarfaraz, Lahn, who stood up for what they believed in, and an actor who often smiled and made his work look easy. I’m in Sonchiriya, I’ll be right back. Lakhna, tired, sloppy, feels perhaps the end of the road, sees himself in clean, well-groomed clothes and on the back of a camel. Is this a foretaste of a happier future? Or a path you’ve never walked before? Here is the picture of Rajput that I will take with me: quietly, slowly out of the canvas, a hint of a smile on his face.
In addition to trained professionals, there are helplines throughout India that you can call if you have mental health problems. Here is a list of five people who offer their services for free.
Sahai: +91-80-25497777 (Monday to Saturday, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.)
Snow: +91-44-24640050 and +91-44-24640060 (daily and hourly)
iCall: +91-22-25521111 (Monday-Saturday, 8.00-10.00)
Parivartan Consultation Service: +91-7676602602 (Monday to Friday, 4:10 p.m.)
Aasra: +91-22-27546669 (daily and hourly).
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