Actor, dreamer, star gazer: Remembering Sushant Singh Rajput

With his off-beat career path, Sushant Singh Rajput did films that earned critical acclaim as well as money. But that wasn’t all that mattered to this young talented actor who passed away today at the age of 34.

One of Bollywood's prominent young stars, Sushant Singh Rajput is no more. The 34-year-old actor was found dead at his Mumbai home on Sunday, June 14. Stunned fans and the film fraternity have expressed shock on social media as more details about the actor's death emerge.

Known for his performances in films like Kai Po Che!, Detective Byomkesh Bakshy, Kedarnath, and Sonchiriya, the actor's most discussed work remains the 2016 sports biopic MS Dhoni: The Untold Story where Singh's committed portrayal of the former Indian cricket captain earned him wide appreciation. The actor's last big release, Chhichhore was one of the most profitable films of 2019.

Before entering showbiz, Sushant studied to be an engineer in Delhi. In the penultimate year of his course, he dropped out to join choreographer Shimak Davar's dance troupe. Thereon, he enrolled in theatre guru Barry John's acting classes and eventually moved to Mumbai to pursue a career in acting.

Sushant Singh Rajput and Ankita Lokhande in Pavitra Rishta

In Mumbai, television became a stepping stone for the rookie newcomer as he bagged a supporting role in TV honcho Ekta Kapoor's serial Kis Desh Mein Hai Meraa Dil on Star Plus. His appeal on the show earned him a lead in Kapoor's next show Pavitra Rishta on Zee where he played a kind-hearted working class hero, Manav. Singh's effortless screen presence and chemistry with co-star Ankita Lokhande made him a TV heartthrob and won him several awards. Singh used his experience as a trained dancer when he entered the fourth season of popular dance-reality show Jhalak Dikhhla Jaa in 2010 and emerged as the first runner-up. Years later, at a major award function the actor would speak of the time when he started off as a background dancer to his journey as a leading man in the movies.

Sushant debuted in Bollywood with Abhishak Kapoor’s Kai Po Che! in 2013. He was up against other promising youths Rajkummar Rao and Amit Sadh. Sushant’s portrayal of the in-the-moment Ishaan was like air to Rao’s water and Sadh’s fire. Following that impressive launch, he got a break with Yash Raj Films’ Shuddh Desi Romance alongside Parineeti Chopra and Vaani Kapoor -- a passable romance drama that did well at the box office. Bigger roles would soon come his way. 

Soon came Dibakar Banerjee’s fresh take of the legendary Bengali sleuth Detective Byomkesh Bakshy. Film goers would remember Bakshi as played by a soft-mannered Rajit Kapur in the iconic ‘90s TV series. Sushant’s ‘Bakshy’ was different: blunt, provocative, sometimes unpleasant but impossible to miss. The film with its authentic 1940s Kolkata setting received rave reviews. Sadly it barely recovered its budget from the box office. The commercial failure of the film notwithstanding, Sushant’s stars were shining. He was well and truly in the big league. 

Sushant Singh Rajput in MS Dhoni: The Untold Story

His next film would be the defining role of his career. He transformed into MS Dhoni in the cricketer’s titular biopic. Sport films such as this one require training and physical intensity. Sushant, himself a bit of a cricketer, trained for months to become the ex-captain of India, tracking the Ranchi boy’s rags-to-riches story from the railway platforms of Kharagpur to lifting the 2011 World Cup in Mumbai. The feel-good film was a massive hit at the box office, raking in 200 crore. 

Sushant’s success and popularity were all the more amazing given his background. While many have transitioned from television to films, few have had the box office success he’d enjoyed. He, along with Shah Rukh Khan and Irrfan, is a rare example of successful TV actors becoming successful film stars. With his off-beat career path, he did films that earned critical acclaim as well as money. 

Sushant, as his biggest fans would have known, was eclectic and a science geek. Reports suggest he was a brilliant student but he dropped out from his engineering course to pursue acting and dancing. He owned a technology company operating in the AI space. He spent hours gazing at celestial objects from the telescope in his balcony, photos of which fill his Instagram. He had expressed interest in space travel and claimed to have been learning flying at one point. A recent post on his Insta showed him learning how to code games. His co-stars too remember his passion for science and the space. The actor also gave heavily to social causes, donating for natural disaster relief in Kerala and Nagaland. 

His now famous bucket list -- 50 Dreams as he called it -- included items as diverse as diving into blue holes, planting 1000 trees, learning Morse code, owning a Lamborghini, and understanding complex physics texts. These wishes would remain unfulfilled. 

Sushant Singh Rajput in Sonchiriya

One of the actor's most consummate performances came earlier last year in Abhishek Chaubey's dacoit drama Sonchiriya. Here the actor slips into the role of Lakhna, a Chambal outlaw caught between remorse and redemption and delivers a performance as stark and searing as the ravines of Chambal.

As Lakhna searches for the meaning of his being and philosophizes the quest for salvation, “Sonchiriya jaa ke sab dhoondh rahe hain, jo kaaho ke haath naa aani.” It feels almost poetic for the man who played him spoke of “a fleeting life” in his last public message.