Unlike the death of artistes in their old age where it’s mostly about the past, the untimely death of a young artist is about the future, full of possibilities.
The death of Sushant Singh Rajput at 34, an age bracket where most actors poised for greatness come into their own, is far from being about the past.
Rajput’s demise by suicide at a young age puts him in the category of great talents such as Heath Ledger, Divya Bharti, Smita Patil, and a few more who might have had a short life but were nothing less than trailblazers in terms of success, talent, popularity as well as the impact they had on the medium in a short period.
It’s strange, but since the 1950s there have been stars that died young across nearly every decade and their legacy grew over time. Beginning with James Dean in the 1950s, Madhubala and Marilyn Monroe in the 1960s, Bruce Lee in the 1970s, Smita Patil and John Belushi in the 1980s, Divya Bharti and River Phoenix in the 1990s and Heath Ledger in the 2000s are some examples of how a promising career was cut short.
It’s still not entirely clear what drove Sushant Singh Rajput to end his life, as details are yet to emerge but one thing is clear — the promising actor is no longer with us.
The time Sushant Singh Rajput made his debut in films with Abishek Kapoor Kai Po Che! (2013), there were far too many young male stars on the scene. Moreover, the previous few generations of stars such as the Khans— Aamir, Salman and Shah Rukh, Akshay Kumar, Ajay Devgn, Hrithik Roshan were still dominating.
In such a scenario, Rajput managed to carve a special space for himself largely based on his talent and screen presence. Unlike Ranveer Singh or Ayushmann Khurrana, Rajput had not endeared himself to a particular production house or a bunch of filmmakers that would repeat him.
Irrespective of some career choices that proved too costly — signing on Shekhar Kapur’s Paani and blocking dates for almost two years that led to Rajput reportedly passing many films, he also had to let got of Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Goliyon Ki Raasleela Ram Leela (2013) due to non-availability of dates, and Aditya Chopra reportedly replied him in Befikre (2016)— he managed to deliver a solo blockbuster.
The success of M.S. Dhoni — The Untold Story (2016) should have done wonders for Rajput, but it did not yield the kind of results one would have hoped.
Rajput graduated from television to films in the same manner that reflected the Shah Rukh Khan trajectory. Moreover, if one looks hard and deep, while the likes of Ranbir Kapoor and Ranveer Singh enjoyed most of the spotlight in terms of who could be the next-gen superstar, it was Rajput who had the best combination that was ideally needed.
His acting was not flashy and he rarely missed a beat when it came to playing complex characters within the realm of popular Hindi films. His portrayal of a college student in Kai Po Che! and the small-town guy who explores pre-martial sex and love at the same time in Shuddh Desi Romance (2013) were both unique and not reminiscent of any previous template.
Similarly, he played one of the most beloved literary figures in India, detective Byomkesh Bakshi in the eponymous film that followed the adventures of the iconic sleuth without any baggage from the past.
In the 1990s, Divya Bharti, too, had a similar career graph as Rajput in the 2010s. Both were the pick of their generation but unlike Bharti, Rajput was not treated like a star in the making by the trade.
Bharti was poised to become the next big thing and her accidental death or suicide, as some believe, suddenly created a vacuum. A look at the films that she was supposed to do gives more than an idea of the peak that she had ascertained in a short span and how her death ended up resurrecting the careers of two generations of actors - Sridevi replaced her in Laadla, Raveena Tandon in Mohra, Tabu in Vijaypath.
It’s ironic that despite delivering two solo hits that made more than Rs 100 crore at the box office (MS Dhoni- The Untold Story and Chhichore), Rajput’s films were never looked at with greater enthusiasm.
A few years before Divya Bharti, Smita Patil’s career was also cut short after her untimely death at 31 due to childbirth complications. At the time of her death, Patil was considered as one of the brightest sparks as far as acting in Indian films went. In a little over a decade, Patil had won two national film awards and acted in films by Shyam Benegal, Satyajit Ray, Govind Nihalani, Saeed Akhtar Mirza, Ramesh Sippy, Prakash Mehra and Mahesh Bhatt to name a few.
Had her life not been cut short, the landscape of Hindi films would have been slightly different when it came to writing women characters.
Rajput’s loss at a young age is the second such death in the Hindi films in the recent past. A few years ago, the death of teen-aged Jiah Khan shocked the industry but little came out of a death that ended a life that was filled with possibilities. The troubles that the young actor underwent just before she decided to end her life might have seemed a reprise of her onscreen portrayal in Nishabd.
Reading her heart-wrenching suicide note, which talks about her failed relationship with actor Suraj Pancholi, the son of Aditya Pancholi and Zarina Wahab, gives a hint of how her efforts to keep up with a demanding relationship with a man who wasn’t even faithful kept her away from pursuing films with greater enthusiasm.
The reality of what happened to Jiah became more poignant following Deepika Padukone’s public confession about her struggles with depression in 2015. But even then mental well-being is not taken as seriously as it ought to in the industry.
Sushant Singh Rajput’s death is a reminder of Divya Bharti, Jiah Khan and Smita Patil. Some would believe that sad as it is, the handful of films do not necessarily make Sushant Singh Rajput a cultural icon such as Divya Bharti or Smita Patil.
However, Rajput’s absence would only grow with the passage of time and someday the industry would realise that it truly lost one of their best ever very young actors.