HEN I routinely checked my phone on 14th June this year for the news of the day, my world suddenly stopped as with this alert: “Actor Sushant Singh Rajput, 34, found dead in his Mumbai home.” My favourite actor had committed suicide. I remembered his debut film, Kai Po Che, where he had an instinct for death over life.
Over the next few days, I watched Sushant’s films over and over again. I needed to make him live.
I liked him a lot in Shuddh Desi Romance, as Raghuram Sitaram, a small-town layabout, in search of a live-in relationship. He doesn’t want to marry. He wants a girlfriend. But now, Sushant’s girlfriend, Rhea Chakraborty, is locked up in jail. What a travesty!
Who is Rhea Chakraborty? Is she a person or just a pre-modern stereotype? If it’s the latter, she might still have a chance. She’d be fighting prejudice which is still human. But if she’s a pawn in an amoral political game, then she’s in a bad place. She’s not even human anymore. Rhea’s been called a vishkanya and an abettor to Sushant’s suicide. Sushant’s family has accused her of “extorting money under the pretext of love” and now the Narcotics Control Bureau is investigating her for drug procurement.
These aren’t accusations. These are the yells of hyenas. The campaign for ‘Justice for Sushant Singh Rajput’ is truly an obscenity.
Sushant suffered from depression, there is no doubt about that. But it is being denied. For his age group in India, suicide ranks as the leading cause of death. His suicide brings these figures alive. It is of national significance because of his high profile.
Sushant suffered from depression, there is no doubt about that. But it is being denied.
But Sushant never came out with his depression. And there is now an effort to push a murder theory instead. A famous television anchor has been thundering away that Sushant was never depressed. In a talk show on the topic, he held the word “depression” away from him as if it were a stinking fish.
An actor, who considers herself the Oracle of India, declared that Sushant, being a “rank holder” could not have had a “weak mind,” whatever that means.
A former girlfriend denies Sushant ever had depression. She wants him to be remembered ‘as a hero’ as if heroes can’t be depressed.
Sushant used simpler language, the language of grief. His mother died when he was 16 and it was no secret that he missed her with all his heart. He spoke of her publicly, dedicated dance performances to her and tattooed a mother-child motif prominently across his back. He wrote poems to her and posted them on social media:
“As long as you were
Now just in your memories
I come alive”.
He tellingly posted another poem, on 3rd June, days before he died:
“Blurred past evaporating from teardrops
Unending dreams carving an arc of a smile”.
He called himself “a shadow” and heart-achingly “a flicker”. He seemed to want respite:
“Time doesn’t move here
Sushant had a difficult family history which is now a matter of much obfuscation.
How do his feelings sound?
Like the yelling of hyenas?
Like a stinking fish?
In this country, we prefer evil to love.
Sushant had a difficult family history which is now a matter of much obfuscation.
His father allegedly deserted the family when he was very young.
Think of a boy who struggles with his feelings and those of his mother in the aftermath of abandonment.
Think of his identity issues and the pressure on his emotional development as the only boy in a family of women – he has four sisters.
Bonds formed in adversity are intense and the complications can last a lifetime. Rhea spoke of his difficult relationship with his father. But she’s been locked up and so has this line of enquiry.
Sushant’s family secrets are being guarded like state secrets.
Sanjay Raut, Shiv Sena spokesman, interestingly brought up Sushant’s family problems in Saamna. He ominously said that “more things will come out.” They haven’t.
Sushant’s family secrets are being guarded like state secrets. This is perhaps natural in a country where the joint family is still an ideal. If we were to admit that an Indian family is an unsafe place, more skeletons than we could handle would come tumbling out. And it would call into question the authority of the paterfamilias which cannot be allowed.
Psychiatrists avoid thorny issues too and attribute emotional distress to the ‘neutrality’ of brain disease. They’re quite conservative actually. But there is now a growing appreciation of the developmental impact of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs).
Imagine what a difference it might have made to Sushant had he been told that his mother’s memory was no disease.
Sushant allegedly began psychiatric treatment when he was very young, when he was 13 or 14. And he suffered from anxiety all his life. People who worked with him knew he had difficulties.
Abhishek Kapoor, his director in Kedarnath, said, “Sushant was fragile. He was incredibly intelligent but he was also complicated.”
“They came to me as a couple and it was very evident how close they were.” These are lovely words. But the Thunderer and his ilk are mobilizing all the hate they can and heaping it on Rhea.
Since November 2019, Sushant was reportedly distressed to the point of suicidal ideation. He cried a lot, slept a lot, and wanted to die. These details were revealed by his therapist. Sushant’s family is suing her. Sushant’s mother suffered from mental ill-health too. There are reports she died of a panic attack, whatever that may mean. How exactly did she die? What part did bereavement play in Sushant’s mental problems?
Rhea was Sushant’s strongest support. “I was impressed by the degree of concern, love, and support Rhea showed,” said his therapist. “They came to me as a couple and it was very evident how close they were.” These are lovely words. But the Thunderer and his ilk are mobilizing all the hate they can and heaping it on Rhea.
Unbridled fantasies are flapping around her like bats. The T-shirt she wore on the day she went to jail said:
“Roses are red
Violets are blue
Let’s smash patriarchy
Me and you.”
It’s incredible that she should turn her personal predicament into something larger at a moment like that.
Is patriarchy the reason Sushant’s mother is almost totally absent from the narrative around his death? And that his family has launched the most vicious of campaigns against Rhea? Like Mandakini in Kedarnath, dragged apart from Mansoor, her Muslim lover, played by Sushant.
The most common violence against women all over the world is domestic violence. And in Rhea’s case, it’s been compounded by state violence.
Like Indumati, a Thakur woman in Sonchiriya, on the run with Lakhna, a dacoit, to escape incest which was also played by him.
The most common violence against women all over the world is domestic violence. And in Rhea’s case, it’s been compounded by state violence. How we’d like to snatch our lives out of patriarchy’s grasp. Like Gayatri, Raghuram’s girlfriend in Shuddh Desi Romance. “Baap ho, baap raho, baap ban-ne ki koshish mat karo,” she says to her father, sending him packing. This is a classic Bollywood line. It’s flippant, but of import.
Sushant’s family recently released a handwritten poem by Sushant:
“Do you remember Mother
You promised you would be with me forever
And I promised you I would keep smiling forever
It seems we were both wrong Mother.”
This is no sentimental aside to the narrative around Sushant’s death. It carries weight. Can you feel the disillusion and despair? The loneliness? The loss of meaning? In the context of his suicide, this poem brings tears to one’s eyes. And it’s disturbing. It expresses a man’s need for emotional attachment. This is what was so special about Sushant as a star. He was masculine without being macho. There was a charm, tenderness, and a lot of heart in his acting. Sushant’s poems to his mother are a non-negligible part of him. What happened to her, we’d like to know. It might put things in perspective.
Love is a word that sounds bizarre in the current perverse and terrifying atmosphere.
Sushant’s poems to his mother are a non-negligible part of him. What happened to her, we’d like to know. It might put things in perspective.
The lies are so brazen that even the people who buy them know they are lies. And there are new ones every day. But there is a hidden narrative of love. Like a movie. Rhea taking Sushant to the therapist, discreetly, secretly, giving him courage despite the stigma. The therapist listening compassionately as he cries and cries before her. The thought of the little comfort he got from Rhea in the midst of the worst of his suffering is like allowing the peace of charas-ganja to steal over you. The NCB should smoke some too.
Rhea’s lawyer’s statement when she was arrested said: “If loving someone is a crime she will face the consequence of her love.” This is like a song Sushant sings in Chhichhore:
“Gar ishq se hai mila
Phir dard se kya gila
Iss dard mein zindagi
Khush haal hai.” (“If this is love’s pain, then I have no complaint. In this pain, I am happy”).
Sushant’s truth lay in poetry, dance, and cinema which are expressions of love. Rhea’s lawyer’s statement is in keeping with his legacy.
Rhea was Sushant’s girlfriend, his partner, his mate. She’s Mandakini, Gayatri, and Indumati. She’s all Sushant’s heroines and each of us Indian women.
Let’s compare Sushant’s posters, claiming an empty justice, strung across Patna, to her as she grieves for him, sleeping on a mat, alone in her cell. What country are we living in?