Breaking Point: Behind the Spate of Alleged Suicides by Actors

Barely four days have elapsed since the suicide – alleged suicide, as the phrase goes to avoid legal complications – of aspiring TV actor Pearl Punjabi.

Twenty-two-year-old Pearl reportedly leapt off the terrace of her apartment in Oshiwara, a sprawling northern suburb of Mumbai, known for its busy antique furniture market, besides housing scores of dreamers longing for a toe-hold in the city’s booming show business.

News items in prints and on the net, suggested that Pearl was disturbed by her non-starter of a career, and would frequently break into arguments with her mother. ‘Depression’ and ‘anger issues’ were also mentioned. Understandably, the family next pleaded with the press to leave them alone to cope with their grief.

Actor Pearl Punjabi.

Also Read: Aspiring Actor Commits Suicide By Jumping off Terrace

The Facebook account of Pearl Punjabi is still active. Many posts are no longer available, with the formal explanation, “When this happens, it’s usually because the owner shared it with a small group of people or changed who can see it, or it’s been deleted.” Several photographs which are still on the page point towards a young talent, outwardly as perky and enthusiastic as the hundreds of her soul sisters and brothers out there on the fringes of Oshiwara, waiting for a reversal of fortunes, if not today, some day.

Chances are that we will never know the whole truth behind the fatal leap, unless the police investigation leads to the discovery of hard facts.

Chances are that we will never know the whole truth behind the fatal leap, unless the police investigation leads to the discovery of hard facts.

*Earlier this year, in a separate case on January 30, 28-year-old Rahul Dixit from Jaipur -- seeking a break in the expanding domain of television -- hung himself with a bed sheet from a ceiling fan in his apartment’s bedroom at the Lokhandwala complex, Versova. Initial statements from the police described it as “an accidental death.” Further investigation, it was underscored, is on the way.

Rahul was said to be doing fine and had posted a photograph at a party hosted at his apartment. A section of the media claimed that he had an argument with his live-in partner, Rupali Kashyap, over excessive drinking.

No suicide note was found. Rahul’s father Mahesh Dixit, left a heart-wrenching comment on Facebook, tagging his son’s friends, “Iss duniya ko kyun chhod gaya, Rahul”, a statement unaccompanied by a question mark.

Actor Rahul Dixit.

*The primary reasons ascribed for the tragedies follow a common pattern: the loss of self-esteem or rejection after auditions, financial worries, fluctuating relationships and anguish in dealing with sexual advances. In the absence of definitive conclusions, the outcome is a trail of mystery and convenient generalisations.

Way back on February 8, 2006, 30-year-old model and TV actor, Kuljeet Randhawa, was found hanging by her dupatta from a ceiling fan. The reason surmised from a suicide note was that she was upset about a broken engagement and could not “cope with life’s pressures.”

Actor Kuljeet Randhawa.

The primary reasons ascribed for the tragedies follow a common pattern: the loss of self-esteem or rejection after auditions, financial worries, fluctuating relationships and anguish in dealing with sexual advances.

*Thirty-year-old actor, Kunal Singh, is said to have ended his life on February 7, 2008. He had acted in Tamil films, moving on to become an assistant editor and an independent film producer. His body was found hanging from a ceiling fan by actor Lavina Bhatia. The theory of suicide was challenged by Kunal’s father who suspected foul play. The case was referred to the CBI, who were of the opinion that it was suicide.

*On April 1, 2016, 24-year-old Pratyusha Banerjee who had made an impact with the TV serial Balika Vadhu and Big Boss 7 among others, was found dead, hanging from a ceiling at a Goregaon apartment. Accusations of abetment were levelled against her former boyfriend TV producer Rahul Raj Singh. Her case was declared to be “death by asphyxiation.”

Actor Pratyusha Banerjee.

*On 16 May 2016, model Shikha Joshi, who acted in a brief role in B.A. Pass, is said to have ended her life with a kitchen knife at a Versova apartment. According to her last words in a hospital, a cosmetic surgeon and “many married men,” led her to the brink.

Actor Shikha Joshi.

* A related point arises about suicides in the showbiz enclave, in this case an officially confirmed one, of the mother of an Andheri West-based female actor (name withheld by request) who has featured in prominent roles in Tamil and Telugu films. On 23 March, 2015, her mother, in her late 50s, had hung herself from a ceiling fan. The mother’s parting note emphasised that “the demons were inside her (own) head.” The note strongly encouraged the daughter and her sister “to follow their own dreams and to be brave.” On being asked to comment, the actor pleaded, “Whenever I’m asked about the…(incident), it triggers off a panic attack. Please be sensitive and respect my privacy.”

A team commissioned by the BBC to make a mini-series documentary on Jiah Khan was in Mumbai for a recce last month.

*Vis-à-vis the controversial deaths of the hugely popular Divya Bharti (April 5, 1993, at age 19) and the Jiah Khan (June 3, 2013, aged 25), there have been continuing conjectures about the causes. A team commissioned by the BBC to make a mini-series documentary on Jiah Khan was in Mumbai for a recce last month.

Clearly there has been no let-up in the Bollywood dream – TV is viewed as a stepping stone towards feature films. Of late, the aspirants have been arriving not only from the diverse parts of India, but also from overseas.

The third generation children of Indians settled in New York, Los Angeles, London, Cape Town and Hong Kong are increasingly jetting to Mumbai with their savings, to hang out at auditions day after day. Less than one per cent of the hopefuls from here or overseas eventually make it.

Of late, the aspirants have been arriving not only from the diverse parts of India, but also from overseas. The third generation children of Indians settled in New York, Los Angeles, London, Cape Town and Hong Kong are increasingly jetting to Mumbai with their savings to hang out at auditions day after day.

From California, 30-something-old Yash Mehta has chucked up his cushy executive job, a ‘luxurious car’ as he calls it, and rescinded his family ties. From London’s Southhall, Nayani Moorthy, carries a portfolio of photographs to TV and film production offices, only to meet with the classic evasive response, “We will get in touch.” Binny Sharma, son of a prosperous Delhi family, works as a restaurant waiter to fund his ongoing struggle.

Quite a few hopeful actors, finding no option, turn into junior artistes and stuntmen performing daredevil feats. According to a senior film PR, some – male or female aspirants -- have no alternative to become escorts.

"“It’s not fair to paint the scene pitch black. It would be wrong to say that we are victims of the B-town system. If we do find it tough going, it’s up to each one of us, to give up or fight on.”"

Pertinently, an aspiring actor who has done ads and appeared in fleeting roles in films, on the condition of anonymity, asserts, “It’s not fair to paint the scene pitch black. It would be wrong to say that we are victims of the B-town system. If we do find it tough going, it’s up to each one of us, to give up or fight on.”

To the question, whether the news of alleged suicides serve as cautionary tales or not, she responds after a pause, “They do make me think twice and thrice over about what I’m still doing here since the last five years. But as the song goes, I will survive.”

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