In a shocking development, news reports emerged that well-known Bollywood actor Sushant Singh Rajput has committed suicide at his residence in Mumbai in June last year. Since then, a barrage of media reports alleged foul play and a CBI investigation was initiated into the circumstances of his death.
He continues to be remembered as a talented actor and warm individual, adored by fans around the world.
Indian Link’s Preeti Jabbal met the Bollywood star at the Indian Film Festival of Melbourne (IIFM) in 2017. “Sushant won the Best Actor Award that year for MS Dhoni: The Untold Story, and when he came up on stage to collect his award, his mum was clearly very much on his mind. I remember his words, ‘My mom said life is a story that you tell yourself and I hope my story is worth telling’.”
She added, “Without a doubt, he was a hugely talented actor. His first visit to Australia was in 2006 as part of Shiamak Davar’s dance troupe for the Commonwealth Games. To rise from there to an actor for the masses as well as the classes, with no godfathers in an industry known for its nepotism, just shows the sheer depth of his talent.”
She describes him as ‘handsome but very boy-next-door’.
The 34-year-old actor was known for his portrayals in TV serials like Pavitra Rishta, before transitioning to a successful film career, starring in Kai Po Chhe (2013), the biopic M.S. Dhoni: The Untold Story (2016), Kedarnath (2018) and Chhichore (2019), among several others.
Mitu Bhowmick Lange, director of IIFM, remembers him as an exceptionally warm, generous man.
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“I was so happy he accepted our invite to come to IFFM 2017. At the festival, my stand-out memory of him is that he was warmly invested in everyone. He took the time to take pictures with all of the fans and our staff,” she said. “At the festival’s dance contest, he cheered for all the acts very graciously and was very friendly as he gave out the awards.”
She remembers how Sushant was equally enthusiastic about his fellow actors, attending a screening of Trapped (2016) starring Rajkummar Rao at the festival and eagerly discussing cinema with him.
“Sushant came to watch it and afterwards, he asked Rajkummar questions like a regular member of the audience, drawing him out on his method and craft. It was good to see such an interest in meaningful cinema and support for a fellow actor’s work. I was genuinely impressed by his sweet and big-hearted nature,” Mitu said.
She also remembers how he kept in touch after IIFM 2017 wrapped up. “After the event, we kept in touch on and off. He would often like my daughter Parina’s pictures on Instagram and sometimes leave an appreciative comment. It’s hard to believe he’s gone.”
Hailing from Bihar, Sushant had been educated in Patna and New Delhi before shifting to Mumbai at the start of his successful Bollywood career.
Ekta Sharma, Station Manager of Indian Link Radio, met him in 2012 before the release of his first Bollywood film. “He was such an energetic, bright person. Seeing his energy, I asked him, ‘Are you from Indore?’ and he replied instantly, ‘Nahi bhai, sabko ye kyu lagta hai ki main Indore se hoon? Ab to Mumbai ka hoon’.”
Indian Link Radio presenter Kashif Harrison, who along with Preeti Jabbal sat beside Sushant at IFFM 2017, recounted their chat. “I’m in absolute shock. Sushant was full of confidence when I met him at Melbourne. He was riding high on the success of the MS Dhoni biopic at the time, and pleasant and amiable to talk to. He resonated well with the crowds – and even though it was a bit of a silly request to show off a Dhoni shot, he did so sportingly on stage.”
Now reflecting on the actor’s tweets, it seems there was another story going untold. “I have been reading his tweets last night with #selfmusing. It gives so much away of the actor’s struggles with life.”
He agreed with his colleague Meenakshi Kalia, another radio presenter, on the need for open discussions about mental health, particularly in these pandemic times.
“In the film Chhichore, jisme bataya gaya tha ki suicide is not the solution, wahan Sushant ka real-life suicide. I can’t believe it,” Meenakshi said.
Indian Link Radio presenter Manoj Menon, too, emphasised the importance of de-stigmatising mental health concerns. “Sushant advocated against suicide in his last movie Chhichore. It’s hard to believe that he has to end his life like this. We really have to understand what one goes through when they are going through mental illness.”
Australian-Indian actress Pallavi Sharda hopes that this tragic incident will open avenues to discuss mental health.
“Feeling a deep sense of loss at the passing of Sushant Singh Rajput. I know it’s not easy, but I hope we can talk about despair more openly… It’s not worth the lives of those we love. Rest In Peace fellow dreamer,” she tweeted.
Bollywood and social media reacted with shock and disbelief on hearing the news of the death of Rajput, who was also noted for his philanthropic services.
Condolences have poured in for the actor from Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray, and other leaders from across the political spectrum.
Even as everyone continues to grapple with the tragic news, Indian Link Radio’s Meenakshi Kalia put some of her thoughts to prose.
“Tum kalakar the asse kalakar jiski muskurahat, kala sab ke dil chu jati thi. Tum bahadur the par iss tara kiyu? Iss tareeke se kiyu? Tum bohat yaad aaoge….”
If you or anyone you know needs assistance or information, support is available at Lifeline on 13 11 14, Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467, Beyond Blue on 1300 224 636, or Headspace on 1800 650 890.