The moment I heard of Sushant Singh Rajput’s death, I thought of calling some common friends that and ask them why did he do it? But I didn’t call anyone. Whatever they could have divulged, it would have just satisfied my curiosity and nothing else. What exactly were the circumstances? what was his mental state, what all pressures he had, what could he have done; I didn’t, I shouldn’t try to reflect on these either as I am neither an expert in that field nor am I, survivor.
But I have spent more than 14 years in the same industry, I too have gone through some of the pressures, so I shall share some of my random memories.
I went to Bombay (now Mumbai) some twenty years ago. I did not know a single soul in the industry. Naturally, I got acquainted with some freshers who had come from different parts of the city. Some left the city just too soon. Those who couldn’t understand the working methodology of the Mumbai film industry started criticizing it and soon became cynics. And these are the ones who could afford to stay in Mumbai, the rest left to their hometown without making anyone know of their exit. And some others kept trying to adjust themselves with the industry.
The many Sushant Singh´s of Bollywood
I used to work as an in house casting director in a production company that produced TV serials. Initially, for a couple of months, my bosses would simply reject the actors that I would shortlist for roles. And slowly I got to know what kind of faces they were looking for and I started giving them what they were looking for. But, I didn’t know the reason for selecting them, I didn’t know what made these selected faces stand apart. I was curious, I wanted to know the reason. And it didn’t take long for me to know the answer.
The answer was that I had started to selecting those actors who came to the office in their cars.
In the Mumbai heat, someone who took the famous crowded train to Andheri then walked or took the bus was someone I couldn’t even give a chance for an audition. Bloody poor! (Well, don’t say it loud; its Mumbai we don’t speak of such things.)
I and my group of friends were also in the same category of people who would take local trains and walk to an audition. Whenever we would hear of an audition, many like us would come to the director´s office to mark our presence. Slowly, the reality also dawned on us that we would not become a `Hero´ and would end up taking any role and continue the struggle. Some would join the theatre and find their mental grounding.
Even in the ‘Bollywood Industry’, the world of advertisement is comparatively democratic. And the world of TV is relatively simpler than the core film industry. Though one has to face a lot of hardships, yet there would a chance to audition for the roles and get shortlisted. Sushant Singh Rajput was the kind who are tailormade for TV.
Though one would hear many stories by TV and film actors claiming to come from a poor background and made it big in the Indian Tinseltown, in my long experience, I have not come across any person from the lower or middle class becoming a Hero. Even actors like late Irfan Khan, Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Manoj Bajpayee and Rajkumar Rao came from prestigious institutions that made it relatively easier for them to enter the acting scene. The National School of Drama had developed a reputation and when the students from these prestigious institutions land in Mumbai, they have a team of seniors who are ready to train them and make connections. Even then, many from those institutions can’t survive for long.
Those who did make it..or did they?
If this is the story of those who couldn’t make it, the story of those who could break the barrier and make it big is entirely different.
Mostly those who can’t make it, wouldn’t even know what it is like to be a star. This reminds me of something a senior told me once; Om Puri, a great actor Indian film industry has seen, he goes and acts in a Hollywood movie called Charlie Wilson’s war with world-famous actor Tom Hanks. After the shooting gets completed, Om Puri is invited to Tom Hanks home as a guest. Well, there’s nothing strange or special about him, a co-actor being invited to a star’s house but what’s interesting is, Would actors like Om Puri ever be invited to a Bollywood star’s house? The answer is No! These people will always be outsiders, those who do character roles, those who did art movies.
At the same time, directors like Sanjay Leela Bhansali, who is known for his craft and is a hugely celebrated person in the film industry makes a new movie, he casts Anil Kapoor’s daughter and Rishi Kapoor’s son.
And JP Datta, another immensely successful director makes a new film, and with the lead pair of Amitabh Bachchan’s son and Rajkapoor’s granddaughter. Many such production houses have acted as launch pads for the sons and daughters of the mummies and daddies and Bollywood.
The system is normalised in the film industry that while you are there nobody finds it unusual. I used to be so angry with these directors and ask why do these big directors have to launch star sons and daughters. But that’s the system there, if one has to survive there, he has to follow the unspoken rules.
No hero or a heroine can talk openly or give an interview; all their interviews are planned in advance where the actors will only give an interview just before the release of their film. So, the interview will be around the film and how great the co-actors, directors, and producers are. You should talk about ‘Positive’ aspects. If they were to think of breaking this rule, a hanging sword called ‘Boycott’ will always be staring at them.
If you look at the actors who have attained stardom in the last 2 or 3 decades, a large majority of them are star sons or closely belonging to the film industry. As this system exists its doesnt just make it difficult for outsiders to survive but it doesnt also tolerate outsiders.
After Sushant´s suicide, condolence messages were pouring from the film fraternity. A Bollywood star suggested instead of these obligatory hypocritical condolence messages, we should do silent mourning and introspect about what has happened. The irony is the star was Saif Ali Khan, another Starson.
#MeToo movement exposed sexual harassment and abuse which is rampant and normalised in the industry. We can just hope that The death of Sushant Singh Rajput would expose exploitations, the unfair rules, the dark world of Bollywood. Only if people choose to speak.
The author has written the experience of his struggling days in Bollywood.