How Bollywood's 'privilege club' failed Sushant Singh Rajput

As industry biggies eulogise, others as, ‘Where were you when Sushant needed you?’

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Bollywood's 'privilege club' failed Sushant Singh Rajpu
NEW DELHI, INDIA – SEPTEMBER 26: Bollywood actor Sushant Singh Rajput poses during an exclusive interview with HT City-Hindustan Times at Hotel Le Meridien, on September 26, 2016 in New Delhi, India. (Photo by Raajessh Kashyap/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)

Sushant Singh Rajput’s suicide has sparked off a conversation around the ruthless ways of Bollywood’s power camps — especially for young aspirants who come to realise their dreams as ‘outsiders’ from all over India, with no bloodline to flaunt.

The general sense that the film and television industry does not care for its own — unless you are an offspring of the industry – is not new. It was gaining ground over the past decade or so. Only, the subject started being widely discussed after actress Kangana Ranaut spoke of it a while back, ironically on “Koffee With Karan”, the chat show hosted by Karan Johar, often accused of being the grand dad of nepotism in Bollywood for his penchant at casting star kids in projects that prop their budding careers.

Sushant’s popularity was exceptional, in this context. He arrived from Bihar forsaking a promising career in engineering, had his brief struggle as a back-up dancer and on TV, before quickly entering the list of exciting, new-gen Bollywood stars. His brief Bollywood career of six years, starting from the urban multiplex hit “Kai Po Che” in 2013, to his final release, last year’s bumper hit “Chhichhore”, has a healthy flow of box office successes, which also established him as a credible actor.

So then, why did films things to a pass that whispers doing the rounds in the industry and on social media began suggesting all the powerful banners of Bollywood had ‘boycotted’ him?

Kangana, for one, seems convinced that Sushant’s deserving films and work were never acknowledged, particularly at the award ceremonies. She also snubs the argument that he committed suicide because of depression, owing to a ‘weak mind’.

“How can his mind be weak? If you look at his last few posts, he is clearly saying, literally begging, ‘Watch my films. I have no Godfather. I will be taken out of the industry’. In his interviews, he had expressed why the industry wasn’t accepting him. So is there no foundation of this incident? He never got acknowledgement for his films, no awards for his films like ‘Kedarnath’, ‘Chhichhore’ and ‘MS Dhoni: The Untold Story’. Films like ‘Gully Boy’ got all the awards,” Kangana said in a video message on Monday, a day after Sushant was found hanging at his Bandra residence.

The theory finds resonance in the words of politician Sanjay Nirupam, whose tweet says Sushant lost seven films, which he had signed, even after the success of “Chhichhore”.

“He lost the films in just six months. Why? The film industry’s ruthlessness works on a very different level. And that ruthlessness took the life of one talented person,” Nirupam posted.

The point becomes clear when one looks at Sushant’s journey from small screen to big screen.

Leaving the world of engineering, Sushant danced his way into showbiz as a background dancer, and got his acting break as the main actor’s brother in the TV show “Kis Desh Mein Hai Meraa Dil”. It was his second role, in the 2009 soap “Pavitra Rishta” that got him fame. As Manav Deshmukh in the Ekta Kapoor show, he became a household name.

Which ensured his initial foray into Bollywood, of course, He was tagged a rising star after “Kai Po Che!” in 2013, and went on to prove his worth with every role he did — from “M.S. Dhoni: The Untold Story” and “Detective Byomkesh Bakshy!” to “Kedarnath” and “Chhichhore”.

From “Kai Po Che” in 2013 to “Chhichhore” in 2019, Sushant had nine big screen releases (discounting the Netflix movie “Drive). Of these four — “Kai Po Che”, “PK”, M.S. Dhoni: The Untold Story” and “Chhichhore” — are outright hits, which means he had a success rate of 50 per cent, which is more than many contemporary male stars.

In short, he had the hits coming in regularly. Even in the films that fared below box-office expectations –“Detective Byomkesh Bakshi”, “Shudh Desi Romance”, “Sonchiriya” and “Raabta” — his acting was universally acclaimed as faultless.

So, why did he lose out on projects?

According to hearsay, over the past few years, Sushant was replaced in several big banner films including Sanjay Bhansali’s “Goliyon Ki Rasleela Ram-Leela” and Aditya Chopra’s “Befikre”. (Incidentally, his replacement in both films, Ranveer Singh — although a self-made superstar and an undeniable talent — is related to the Anil Kapoor clan. He is Sonam Kapoor’s cousin.)

However, Sushant never revealed any sign of depression owing to the rejections. If he faced difficulties being an outsider, he had learnt to take it in his stride. In an interview Sushant gave to IANS a while back, he conceded that industry insiders get “slightly more room” but he insisted it did not matter.

“Yeah, it does get very difficult. It is difficult for everybody because we have heard about some very successful outsiders’ stories too, and unfortunately not-so-very successful insiders’ stories. So, in the long run, it doesn’t matter, but for a short period of time. The insiders are given slightly more room to actually downplay their failures and magnify their success,” Sushant had told IANS.

Things, though, have systematically worsened since that interview. The Bollywood Privilege Club, as filmmaker Anubhav Sinha likes to call them, has only grown in strength.

“The Bollywood Privilege Club must sit down and think hard tonight. P.S. – Now don’t ask me to elaborate any further,” Sinha expressed, after Sushant’s demise on social media.

Over the past one day, several self-made talents, young and old, have called out Bollywood’s hypocrisy, shielding its bloodlines and coldly ignoring others who may wish to join the industry. They have all pointed fingers at the self appointed “gatekeepers of Bollywood”.

Kangana’s scathing video and Sinha’s scathing comment apart, there have been posts by Shekhar Kapur and Ranvir Shorey, as well as close industry watchers like celebrity hairstylist Sapna Bhavnani, that clearly indicate all may not be well for aspirants who do not have the magic entry pass of familial connection.

Sushant’s “Sonchiriya” co-star Ranvir Shorey has questioned the trend of zero accountability of power in the industry. “It wouldn’t be fair to blame someone for a step that he took himself. He was playing a high stakes game, where it’s win or lose it all. But something has to be said about the self appointed ‘gatekeepers of Bollywood’,” Ranvir tweeted.

He continued: “Something has to be said about the games they play, and their two facedness.”

“Something has to be said about the power they wield with zero accountability. The power they derive from having inherited privilege in the business and the mainstream media sitting in their lap. The power to decide who will be a ‘star’ and who will be left out in the cold. But of course, the coterie that owns the only high stakes table in the casino will never be questioned, because everyone is too busy enjoying the game. Even if they know it’s fixed.”

Nikhil Dwivedi had strong words, pointing at how the industry only cares for success. “At times our movie industry’s hypocrisy gets to me. High and mighty announcing they should have kept in touch with Sushant.. C’mon, you didn’t! And that’s because his career dipped. So are you in touch with Imran Khan, Abhay Deol and others? No! But you were, when they were doing well,” he said in a tweet.

Celebrity stylist Sapna Bhavnani minced no words. “It’s no secret Sushant was going through very tough times for the last few years. No one in the industry stood up for him nor did they lend a helping hand. To tweet today is the biggest display of how shallow the industry really is. No one here is your friend.”

Filmmaker Shekhar Kapur posted an indicative tweet, reading: “I knew the pain you were going through. I knew the story of the people that let you down so bad that you would weep on my shoulder. I wish I was around the last six months. I wish you had reached out to me. What happened to you was their Karma. Not yours.”

Kapur was supposed to make his ambitious project “Paani” with Sushant. The film was supposed to be backed by Aditya Chopra’s banner Yash Raj Films (YRF).

Unconfirmed rumours have stated that, after “Shuddh Desi Romance” and “Detective Byomkesh Bakshy!”, Sushant had a fallout with YRF, which would have impacted his career and also got him in the bad books of other influential producers.

Actor Sikander Kher took a hardhitting jibe at those talking behind other people’s back, through a video message he posted on Monday. He said that they should not do so if they do not have anything good to talk about somebody.

“Udaan” actor Rajat Barmecha posted saying Sushant “is no more and suddenly the entire industry and world has great things to say about him” but where “were you when he actually needed you”. Rajat added; “There are so many out there.” He said people should not just say things, but also mean them.

Koena Mitra posted: “Shri Krishna said in Mahabharata… ‘Those who are quiet or neutral shall be deemed to be on side of Adharma’ (Sinners)’. You either speak up or accept that you too are among them.”

Two hashtags on Koena’s post say a lot about how many outsiders feel: #Nepotism and #MafiaBuisness.

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