Mumbai: One year after Sushant Singh Rajput’s death tore off Bollywood’s tinsel veneer to reveal an industry full of schisms, what has changed? Not much, say industry insiders. The powerful Hindi film industry continues to operate on the mantras of favouritism and camps, they maintain. Sushant Singh Rajput’s death is rarely talked about these days, the insiders claimed.
The industry was and still is a fiercely guarded space, reluctant to let outsiders in and a place of cut-throat competition for new talent. A number of people spoke on this issue. While some were defiant, there were several others requesting anonymity as they said that their lives depended on Bollywood.
June 14 last year, Sushant, the quintessential outsider who found stardom with films such as MS Dhoni: The Untold Story and Chhichhore, was found hanging in his Bandra home. The 34-year-old’s death put the spotlight on mental health issues. However, the tragedy also cast a cloud over the entire glamour industry. Issues such as nepotism, insider-outsider and bullying opened up for intense debate.
“I am not sure if there are too many changes that have happened. There are groups, gangs that exist. You can call it favouritism, nepotism or what you will,” producer Pritish Nandy said.
A year after the death of the Patna-born Rajput, the nepotism debate has again gained momentum. It happened after the exit of Kartik Aaryan from Karan Johar’s Dostana 2. It was followed by reports that the actor was no longer part of Shah Rukh Khan’s upcoming production Freddie either. Reports of Aaryan being dropped from Aanand L Rai’s production also cropped up online but there was no confirmation.
The Gwalior-born Aaryan is also an ‘outsider’. He has not yet addressed the speculation. However, director Anubhav Sinha recently said the campaign against Aaryan seems ‘concerted’ and ‘unfair’.
There is a need for a mental health expert on film sets, said Garima Wahal. She was one of the writers on Rajput’s 2017 film Raabta. “Hopefully someday we will see that happening and we would have to thank Sushant for it. His was a fragile intelligent mind. It shouldn’t have happened to him,” Garima stated.
Nandy, producer of the International Emmy-nominated show Four More Shots Please!, said the actor’s death was heavily politicized. He asserted that in process issues never got the real attention they deserved. “Sushant’s death, unfortunate as it may have been, is one more example of a talented young man scrambling for his space in the sunlight,” he said.
Drawing attention to a spate of suicides of character artistes and television stars in recent months, Nandy asked, “How many television stars have suffered from Covid-19 and are dying because they are jobless and are in deep distress. There are no safeguards. It is dangerous. Some of the biggest producers have died penniless… To stay in the limelight and to survive is as difficult as to get into the limelight,” added Nandy.
As speculation swirled and terms such as druggies and scum were used to describe Bollywood in a bruising debate that played out on social and other media, various agencies were brought in to investigate Sushant’s death. These included Mumbai Police, Enforcement Directorate (ED), Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and the Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB).
The raging hydra-headed controversy over Sushant’s death also dragged in top bosses such as Karan Johar, Aditya Chopra and Salman Khan. Mainstream stars Deepika Padukone, Sara Ali Khan and Shraddha Kapoor were questioned by the NCB in a drugs case linked to the late actor.
Actor Rhea Chakraborty, Rajput’s former girlfriend, was accused of abetting his suicide and misappropriating his funds by his family. Put through the media wringer, she was declared responsible for his death by several news channels. She, along with her brother Showik Chakraborty, is currently out on bail. The investigation into Rajput’s death continues.
Garima and her colleague Siddharth Singh, who co-wrote Raabta, said people in the industry go on playing games and pulling each other down.
“We did hope that after Sushant went people would be better. However, we were surprised to see no change in a lot of people,” Garima said.
Rajput’s death sparked intense soul searching on the functioning of Bollywood. However, it has not led to any constructive change, Siddharth pointed out. “It is a difficult industry to work in. There is favouritism and there are camps,” he said.
A leading publicist, requesting anonymity, said nepotism and the culture of ‘cornering people’ is Bollywood’s harsh reality.
“Star kids do get an easy route in terms of access. However, there are some star kids, who aren’t around because they are not talented,” the publicist stated. There is, however, a thin silver lining. “The good part is we still have outsiders who have become insiders purely on the basis of talent,” the publicist added.
Sushant’s death was ‘a rude shock’ for actor Gulshan Devaiah. It made him realise the entertainment industry doesn’t necessarily work on the basis of merit.
“It made me look inwards and try and decide what I am cool with and what I am not in terms of the whole hustle,” Devaiah said. “I keep repeating to myself that in the arts merit cannot exist because it is a very subjective and personal opinion. We feel we deserve more and better,” Devaiah, who was seen in Shaitan and Mard Ko Dard Nahi Hota, added.
Sahil Vaid was Sushant’s co-star in his swansong Dil Bechara. According to Vaid, the discussion around the alleged wrongs done to the late actor is too little, too late.
“After his demise, a gamut of things happened, which I don’t understand. They were trying to stain his legacy by saying he was this, he was that. But what’s the point now? He is not there to defend himself. Why didn’t you say stuff when he was around? It is quite unfair,” an anguished Vaid stated.