A star is gone but the dust refuses to settle

It has been three months since Sushant Singh Rajput’s body was found in his apartment. His death on June 14, allegedly by suicide, came as a huge shock to many people. Many political leaders and celebrities from all walks of life condoled his death. Since then, Sushant’s death probe has gone through several twists and turns: some bizarre and many political, ahead of an important state election in Bihar. Every day brings a new revelation, which gives a new twist to the actor’s death. With multiple agencies probing the case and his girlfriend Rhea Chakraborty’s role in it from different angles – money laundering, drug abuse and abetment to suicide – the case has become a web of bizarre theories and motivated speculations. In the fight for ‘Justice for Sushant’, Rhea has become collateral damage. All kinds of allegations have been hurled at her: from charging Rhea with murder and embezzlement, to forcing Sushant to kill himself, she has been subjected to the unending ordeal of a media trial.

Kangana Ranaut joined the ‘Justice for Sushant’ chorus, with relentless attacks on Bollywood. The television media, always looking for a spectacle to keep their prime time debates going and their audience gratified, was happy to report and debate over Kangana's provocative comments. This obviously gave her more incentive to make even more provocative statements. Her recent nonsensical comment, comparing Mumbai with Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, and an equally gratuitous retort by Shiv Sena spokesperson Sanjay Raut, gave Sushant’s death case a political twist. With the Central home ministry providing Y plus category security to Kangana last week, Sushant’s death has become a proxy political battle between the BJP and Shiv Sena. In Bihar, the ruling NDA coalition partners have incorporated Sushant’s death in their campaigns by linking it to Bihari pride for the forthcoming assembly election.

Sushant’s death by hanging is the morbid tale of a successful actor gone too soon. The belligerent stand taken by some political leaders, Sushant’s family and Bollywood celebrities like Kangana and others has created a lot of confusion and diverted everyone’s attention to such an extent that the CBI investigation has become secondary, while allegations of nepotism in Bollywood and its portrayal as a murky den of substance abuse and criminality have become primary subjects of television debates. As a result, more than Sushant’s death and the ordeal Rhea has been subjected to, salacious details of Bollywood’s ‘secret world’ have become prime time television headlines. The relentless hounding of Rhea by news channels, holding her responsible for the actor’s death, is not only inexcusable but a travesty of justice in the guise of free speech and media freedom. If the media’s role in sensationalising Sushant’s case is reprehensible, politicians and celebrities have not covered themselves in glory either, using the case to fight their own battles.

Kangana’s bold and controversial comments criticising the Sena, Mumbai and its police, besides her ranting against the film industry suggest two things: one, she is the celebrity face of the BJP’s behind-the-scenes fight against the Sena and two, she is using Sushant’s death to fight her own battle against some film industry bigwigs who she has accused of nepotism. From claiming to know the ‘dark side’ of the film industry, questioning the Mumbai police administration in Sushant’s death probe, making sensational claims about drug operations running in the industry to naming filmmakers Karan Johar, Aditya Chopra and Mahesh Bhatt as people responsible for ‘killing’ Sushant by bullying, exploiting and harassing the late actor, the controversial ‘Panga’ actress has managed to make TV headlines. But how far her unsubstantiated tweets and allegations will help the investigating agencies solve the mystery around Sushant’s death is difficult to surmise.

A lot of people, including Kangana, have been quite vocal about the unfair treatment of the outsiders in the industry. It is true that it is quite difficult for an outsider to make it big in films, compared to someone who has well-established connections with the industry. Being born into the industry definitely affords a star-kid the privileges of access and a first break. But after that it’s the talent, the hard work, drive and perseverance that propels an individual forward. The fact that today there are many star-kids who have fallen by the wayside proves the point that family pedigree is no guarantee to success. Before making his entry in Bollywood, Sushant was a popular face on television. He didn’t have to regret his decision to quit television because in a short span of six to seven years, he achieved a fair bit of success. He had almost everything – talent, success and a huge bank balance – going right and there seemed no looking back for him.

Then what went wrong? Did he fear failure? Was he a weak-hearted person easily prone to stress and anxiety? Did he see no great future for himself in the industry? And finally, did he lose faith in his ability to survive against odds, fight his battle against those allegedly ranged against him? After all, nobody gives up so easily, having been fairly successful so early in one’s career. That he was under psychiatric treatment has been proved. What has also been established is the longevity and severity of his mental illness, given that he had consulted five doctors. Apparently, Sushant wanted to hide his mental illness from the outside world and if reports are to be believed, he also used to indulge in substance abuse. But it is unfair to reach any conclusion at this stage. The web of theories and inferred opinions about his death are no substitute for the truth.

The last message Sushant reportedly sent to Rhea was on June 9. But he didn’t hear from his girlfriend who was apparently miffed with him for sending the message 24 hours after she left his house and not calling her back. Rhea is now under judicial custody for allegedly arranging narcotic substances for Sushant and her bail plea has also been rejected. Nothing is going good for Rhea and there is no way for Sushant to know the suffering she has gone through since his death: the ordeal of facing multiple investigative agencies for several days and the frantic TV coverage and studio-based investigations. The narrative sold for public consumption by TV media about Rhea has been that she was a wily seductress who manipulated a simple man through black magic and hypnotic drugs, siphoned off his money and got him killed. We don’t know whether this is true, but it’s also hard to believe. Now it’s for the investigative agencies to establish how Sushant died and whether his death was a suicide or homicide.

The author is an independent senior journalist

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