BIG, BAD WORLD OF BOLLYWOOD
Editor’s Note: History is proof that when rulers and regimes become too self-serving, corrupt and repressive, they are eventually and inevitably overthrown by the very people that they comfortably reigned over for ages. Take, for instance, the French Revolution and the Russian Revolution in which decadent monarchies were abolished for good in the past millennium – or the Arab Spring that deposed many a despotic leader across the Middle East and North Africa region a few years ago.
Back in India, ever since independence from the British, if there is one thing apart from the sport of cricket that has ruled the hearts of the majority of its people, it is Hindi cinema, better known as Bollywood these days. Having thrived for well over seven decades in Mumbai, its film industry has been home to artists and businessmen from across the country. Craft, contacts, inheritance and legacy have been handed down from generation to generation. It was alright for the longest time because, as they say, that is the way of the world.
However, the mysterious death of popular actor Sushant Singh Rajput last month has firmly put the spotlight on things that are morally criminal, criminally wrong and hence utterly unacceptable about present-day Bollywood – starting from its self-appointed masters, their pathetic plots and their diabolical dealings, to their ever-fawning star pawns and the corrupt ecosystem serving their ends.
This is the first in a series of articles on some nightmarish stories from the City of Dreams, which have led to an ongoing national movement seeking justice for Rajput.
MASTERS OF FALSE NARRATIVE
When news broke on June 14 that Sushant Singh Rajput had died that morning by suicide in his Mumbai flat, people across India were shocked beyond belief, his legions of fans even more so. As it all sank in, one question loomed large: Why would a bright, cheerful and healthy star, who had not only enjoyed box office success but also received critical acclaim for his performances over the course of his young career, choose to end his life this way?
Curiously, the Bhatt brothers from Bollywood already had the answer.
On the very day of Rajput’s sad demise, veteran film producer Mukesh Bhatt appeared on a leading news channel and declared that he “saw it coming”. After repeatedly suggesting how keen the actor had been over the years to work with his production house, Mukesh said the two had met twice over the years for prospective collaborations – but it was during the second meeting, around a year and a half ago, when he felt that Rajput “was a very disturbed soul”.
“There was something amiss, something wrong,” he told Times Now.
Mukesh even claimed that he saw the same “glazed look” in Rajput’s eyes as he has seen in those of actress Parveen Babi, with whom he had made his first film and who “unfortunately was also a victim of schizophrenia (a mental illness)”.
“I remember telling my brother (director-producer Mahesh Bhatt) that this boy is going the Parveen Babi way,” Bhatt stated, as he reiterated why he was terribly “depressed” and “hurt” but not shocked as the rest of the world upon learning of Rajput’s demise.
(Interestingly, Babi, who had a relationship with Mahesh, had always maintained that stories about her being schizophrenic were nothing but a conspiracy by certain sections of the industry and the media to establish her image as an insane person so that their ugly realities would in turn never be established.)
The very next morning came another story from the Bhatt camp, in which some startling “revelations” on Rajput’s suicide were made by Suhrita Sengupta, a writer and close associate of Mahesh, and those parallels with Babi were drawn once again.
Rajput had become a complete recluse over the past year and at later stages began feeling that “people were trying to kill him”, said Sengupta in a sensationalised article – titled “Sushant began hearing voices … Rhea got frightened and left” – published by the National Herald, a newspaper owned by the Indian National Congress.
In that story, Sengupta went on and on about how Mahesh, from his previous experience with Babi, was able to accurately diagnose Rajput’s mental illness; how he advised Rhea Chakraborty (a starlet who was Rajput’s live-in girlfriend and Mahesh’s protégé) that psychiatric medication was the only way to manage it; how Rajput refused to take the prescribed medications, despite concerted efforts by his girlfriend and family members, which led to his “rapid descent into depression”; and, finally, how Mahesh eventually asked Chakraborty to quit the relationship and leave Rajput’s home to preserve her own sanity (an attribution that Mahesh had no problem with for the longest time since the article’s publication, but one that he fervently denied during his recent police investigation).
ANCHORED IN HYPOCRISY
Meanwhile, producer-cum-director-cum-TV anchor Karan Johar, one of the most influential personalities in Bollywood, had posted on his Instagram account a message that was supposed to come across as a candidly introspective and genuinely sombre goodbye to Rajput.
It read: “I blame myself for not being in touch with you for the past year..... I have felt at times like you may have needed people to share your life with...but somehow I never followed up on that feeling...will never make that mistake again...we live in very energetic and noisy but still very isolated times ...some of us succumb to these silences and go within...we need to not just make relationships but also constantly nurture them....Sushant’s unfortunate demise has been a huge wake up call to me ...to my level of compassion and to my ability to foster and protect my equations.....I hope this resonates with all of you as well....will miss your infectious smile and your bear hug ...”
Many other stars and celebrities from the entertainment world followed suit, practically parroting typical phrases about mental health and depression.
Much of the mainstream media clearly bought into this narrative and covered Rajput’s demise as a confirmed suicide that was committed by someone who was mentally ill and had lost the will to live.
THE FIRST TO SEE IT
However, the fans of Rajput had already begun suspecting that something was amiss in the whole affair. They noticed that Rajput’s death had been declared a suicide a little too promptly. After all, the police did so within minutes after reaching the late actor’s apartment in Bandra, when the forensic and post-mortem reports had not even begun being prepared.
Those who closely followed Rajput over the course of his career knew that neither had he ever done a film with the Bhatt’s production house nor was he ever known to be close to either of the brothers. The only visible link between Rajput and them was Chakraborty who had starred in one of Mukesh’s B-grade films (that had sunk without a trace) and was apparently close to Mahesh (as evident from some of their pictures together on social media).
As for Johar’s post, it was widely called out for its brazen hypocrisy.
For one, here was a man who had never invited Rajput to his long-running talk show on TV, no matter how big the actor’s box office successes had been over the past decade, while star kids (some not even one film old) were featured regularly.
But he had done far worse things.
Just to prove their point to the rest of the world, the fans posted many clips from the show where Johar was seen making tongue-in-cheek remarks or asking strategically timed and placed questions that would somehow project Rajput either in an unfavourable light compared to his Bollywood contemporaries or as someone who was a nobody in the industry.
Through relevant screenshots and clippings, the fans exposed Johar’s proximity to film critic and entertainment journalist Rajeev Masand, who wrote vicious blind items on Rajput in the weekly OPEN magazine over the past years with an undeniable intention of painting the actor as a “skirt-chaser”, sexual abuser, drunkard, “insecure” and “overpriced”.
(Interestingly, Masand quietly stopped writing blind items for the magazine after Rajput’s demise – but he has yet to express regret for the inexcusable damage he did to the actor’s reputation and peace of mind when he was alive.)
Thus, it soon came to light how Rajput had for long faced a hostile Bollywood media mafia that had been unleashed by some industry bigwigs who had no love lost for him.
Yet, after and despite the actor’s death, most of the prominent figures of Bollywood remained disturbingly quiet, refusing to acknowledge the grave wrongs that had so clearly been perpetrated in and by their industry.
Except one woman: Kangana Ranaut.
In a video that was posted a day after Rajput’s death, Ranaut – a top actress who has won multiple national awards, whose fights against some industry insiders (including Johar) is well documented, and who famously made nepotism in Bollywood an enduring talking point across the country – called out the “parallel narrative” run by the nexus of Bollywood power centres and their PR machinery.
Relating her own experiences with Rajput’s, much of which was already public knowledge thanks to her fearless outspokenness over the past few years, she said: “These people want to be the ones who write the history of this industry. They will tell you that Sushant was weak-minded but they will not tell you the truth. So, we have to decide now who will write the history.”
And that was the beginning of a storm which has begun blowing well and truly in Bollywood. A storm that is unlikely to blow over without making sweeping changes. A storm that its constellation of stars and star-makers will be ill-advised to ignore.
After all, Rajput himself had said once when asked about his views on nepotism in Bollywood: “If you deliberately don’t allow right talents to come up, then there’s a problem. Then the whole structure of the industry would collapse one day.”