The Siamese twins of show business and depression

"Actors are the most insecure and psychologically disturbed people," observed renowned film critic, late Iqbal Masood immediately after the death of Meena Kumari on March 31, 1972. Tragedy Queen's growing depression made her hit the bottle, which ultimately consumed her. Sushant Singh Rajput's suicide on Sunday has once again opened the can of worms, nay the Pandora's Box on the hush-hush issue of depression which often engulfs those associated with the show business.

Though depression has crept into all sectors, segments and spheres of human life, show business has always been specifically more affected by this problem. Now the million-dollar question is: What makes show business folks depressed despite their ostensible affluence, glamour and popularity?

Woh jinko pyaar hai chaandi se ishq sone se;

Wahi kahenge kabhi, humne khudkushi kar lee.

(Those who loved the affluence,

will ultimately concede by committing suicide).

Remember, reel life and real life are poles asunder. When terribly depressed Marilyn Monroe committed suicide by taking an overdose of barbiturates on August 4, 1962 at her home in Los Angeles, Life magazine carried a long and perceptive article, analysing the reasons for her depression that paved the way for suicide at the age of 36. Actors and people from the glamour world often live a dichotomised existence. The constant juxtaposition of two seemingly opposite selves of reel and real confounds them.

That's the reason, the legendary English actor Sir Lawrence Oliver used to say that every thespian invariably suffers from a mild form of Bipolar Syndrome and needs to visit a shrink at regular intervals. The tinsel town folks are deep-down well-aware that all that glitters is not gold. A constantly painful projection of all good and apparent cheerfulness eventually takes a toll on them because there's forever a tussle between the faux projection and real persona, impacting an actor's mental equilibrium. Moreover, maintaining a projected lifestyle in all circumstances is an uphill task. It ultimately breaks a person and he/she wilts under the cumbersome burden of carrying a false persona all the time.

All actors know it very well that their fame is ephemeral and they've a short shelf-life. This makes them terribly insecure. Surviving and subsisting on a projected self is no child's play. It drives a person crazy. The acute insecurity about the profession and retention of the fame can be fatal, for retaining the top position is far more difficult than achieving it. Satyajit Ray's one of the greatest cinematic creations Nayak (1966) very cogently depicts this internal turmoil of a famed actor, more worried about the perpetuation of his screen persona and popularity. Ironically, the actor Uttam Kumar who essayed the role of the protagonist, himself suffered from Fame Perpetuation Syndrome (FPS) and depressed, he died at the age of 54 in 1980. Uttam Kumar was a bit depressed towards the fag end of his career when he found that his position in Bengali film industry and Hindi film world was no longer undisputed. That it wasn't a cake-walk any longer, brought him down to earth and he went into depression.

The same happened to his bosom pal from Bombay, the legendary Muhammad Rafi. Seventies saw Rafi's popularity take a dip, thanks to the emergence of Kishore Kumar. This shook the genius and depressed him so much that he decided to leave the music world of Hindi cinema. Having pursued a PhD degree on Rafi's singing prowess from the University of Lahore, I dare say that the legend died a disillusioned man, if not outright depressed. The same deplorable fate befell the superstar Rajesh Khanna, who had to bear the shock of the unnecessarily candid film scribe Devyani Chaubal's disconcerting prophecy, "Kaka, your days are numbered," when she came out of the premiere of Hrishikesh Mukherjee's Namakharam in 1972! That was the beginning of a forgettable end of a superstar's dream run and the advent of yet another megastar, Amitabh Bacchan.

Show business is ruthless. No one is your true friend. This disillusionment descends on actors rather quickly. Fame also brings a kind of loneliness that gnaws at actors. Hollywood actor Paul Newman called (Hollywood) show business, the world of showy people with artificial mannerisms and affected smiles. This applies to Bollywood as well. Depressed actors have no one to turn to. In such difficult situations and circumstances, they often hit the bottle and try drugs. Wallowing in a state of self-pity and self-loathing, death-wish overwhelms them. Unable to bear it further, they commit suicide. The eternally internal unhappiness drives them to the edge of life, vindicating Sahir Ludhianavi's words from the film Chandi ki deewaar (1965):

Jo taar se nikli hai woh dhun sabne suni hai;

Jo saaz pe guzari hai woh kis dil ko pata hai.

(Everyone has listened to the mellifluous tune emanating from the strings

But who ever bothered to know what happened to the strings?)

So very true.

The writer is an advanced research scholar of Semitic languages, civilisations and cultures.

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