On Sunday, the news of the talented Bollywood actor Sushant Singh Rajput's suicide sent shockwaves across India. The fact that one so young and so seemingly successful could have been struggling with such serious mental demons indeed painted a tragic scenario.
However, within the film industry, most were aware of Sushant’s deteriorating mental health. He had been going through severe personal and professional travails in the last couple of years. The news of his erratic, reckless behaviour was making regular splashes in the gossip columns. Many of Sushant’s staff members had reportedly left him due to his temper tantrums. It was apparent to almost everybody in his social and professional circles that he was in need of help, but no one made an attempt to sit down with Sushant and tried to clear cobwebs from his head.
There is also little doubt that there was a sustained, systematic campaign within the industry in the last couple of years to isolate Sushant. He had rubbed a couple of big production houses the wrong way and had had altercations with a few fellow actors. Such clashes of interest and egos are par for the course in the cut-throat industry, but since Sushant was an outsider — and because he didn't have the solid backing of any powerful Godfather or a lobby — he became an easy target.
Hardly had any movies
Despite giving moderate hits regularly, he hardly had any big movies in his kitty. He was relentlessly humiliated, snubbed and isolated within the industry despite proving his acting finesse and Box Office sustainability. Stories about his arrogance, abrasiveness and debauched lifestyle were selectively leaked to the media to tarnish his profesional and public reputation. The underlying objective was to create such a monstrous perception about him that prominent producers and directors hesitate in working with him.
Was he squeaky clean? Of course not. None is. But even his small follies and indiscretions were being magnified by the industry and the media, while many of his privileged contemporaries got away with far more lurid, sinister things.
In Bollywood, it isn't just about box-office battles, but also about public image as well. Burnishing your public reputation and chipping away at rivals' image isn't uncommon. Sushant was made to believe he was unwanted, unprofessional and unsuccessful.
Is Sushant the only actor to have faced this? No! Did the perpetrators think he would take such a drastic step and end his life? No! But was Sushant pushed to the precipice, even if inadvertently? Absolutely, yes! Some people endure the snubs and the slander, others take them in their stride. Some others can't endure. It gets especially tough for the outsider who doesn’t have powerful connections in the industry to lean on.
What’s to blame?
Sapna Bhavani, the famous hairstylist, minced no words when she said everyone in the industry knew Sushant was going through very tough times, but no one stood up for him or lent him a helping hand.
An all-friendly, top producer-director bemoaned that he regretted he didn't stay in touch with Sushant for over a year, despite knowing the actor needed people around him. This is the same person who spearheaded the industry smear campaign against Sushant. He and his proteges privately, and sometimes even publicly, spoke of Sushant in the most unflattering terms. Hence this bigwig's apology and the confession - "it's a huge wake up call for me" - ring hollow.
At a time when a talented outsider deserved empathy, help and care, he only got spiteful jeers and jibes from his privileged colleagues. And that, perhaps, was what killed him.