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Tuesday, August 03, 2021

Split wide open: Sushant Singh Rajput’s death leaves Bollywood divided, shaken

From nepotism and insider-outsider to mainstream vs indie cinema and bullying, it is open season for debate and mudslinging in Bollywood.

By: PTI | New Delhi |
July 24, 2020 3:45:49 pm
Sushant Singh Rajput, Sushant Singh Rajput death, Sushant Singh Rajput movies, Sushant Singh Rajput suicide, mental health, Entertainment news, Indian Express Sushant Singh Rajput died by suicide on June 14. (Photo: Sushant Singh Rajput/Instagram)

Bollywood is a house divided perhaps like never before with the death of actor Sushant Singh Rajput ripping the tinsel veneer to reveal the inner workings of an industry always in the public eye and expose schisms big and small.

From nepotism and insider-outsider to mainstream vs indie cinema and bullying, it is open season for debate and mudslinging.

The weeks since the death of the 34-year-old actor, who was found hanging in his Bandra apartment on June 14, has led to a churn, throwing up deep-rooted issues that have long troubled the glamour industry. The angst and anxiety have prompted searching, existential questions on the nature of Bollywood and its power structures.

During its investigation into the death of the actor, who went from being the ‘outsider’ from Patna to the star of films such as Chichhore and MS Dhoni: The Untold Story, Mumbai Police has questioned several big names, including producers Aditya Chopra and Sanjay Leela Bhansali as well as journalist Rajeev Masand.

And while the focus for a while was on mental health issues and their manifestations, the discourse has quickly moved on as increasing numbers of film industry insiders are speaking out, sometimes to air animus and other times to spotlight the many areas of friction.

The rifts are wide open and played out mostly on social media.

If Kangana Ranaut slammed film barons Chopra and Karan Johar and also took a swipe at Tapsee Pannu and Swara Bhaskar, Anurag Kashyap and Ranvir Shorey were engaged in an unseemly spat on Twitter.

As the issue snowballed into something no one had quite envisaged, filmmaker Anubhav Sinha said he was quitting Bollywood, triggering intense discussion on what the moniker really means.

“ENOUGH!!! I hereby resign from Bollywood. Whatever the f*** that means,” Sinha wrote on Twitter and updated his profile to Anubhav Sinha (Not Bollywood).

Responding to Sinha, director Sudhir Mishra said, “Bollywood chodo. Let”s go towards Indian Cinema, Indian Storytelling!”

Aligarh director Hansal Mehta said, “Chhor diya (left it) It never existed in the first place.”

Sinha, who has a string of recent successes with films such as Thappad and Mulk, also said he does not understand the outsider versus insider debate.

“When successful people talk about nepotism and outsider-insider, I find it ironic. I know at least 200 people who are insiders and nobody knows them and then there are people who came out of nowhere and have made it big,” Sinha told PTI.

Also read | Anubhav Sinha: I have been a fearless, ridiculous man

Referring to Rajput, whose untimely death is clouded by talk of unfair contract details and films that he was done out of, Sinha said, “The guy was dealing with something that hurt him terribly. I don’t know what that was. Maybe all these stories will turn out to be right, maybe not. I hope we get to know someday whether we have made mistakes in dealing with people and get an opportunity to correct it.”

But there was little space for any nuanced introspection as a discussion that began with Rajput’s death took a turn.

Ranaut, who has labelled Rajput’s death “murder”, accused Bollywood biggies of systematically working against the Chhichhore star, and promoting his image as a “flop actor”. She also alleged that his hits were glossed over and the figures fudged to highlight the successes of ‘insider’ films.

She dragged her Panga co-star Richa Chadha and Tanu Weds Manu co-star Swara Bhasker, both outspoken and both ‘outsiders’, into the controversy, calling them “B-grade” actors in cahoots with Johar.

Pannu, who has often spoken about being an outsider and struggling her way up, called out Ranaut for her “either you are with me or against me” narrative. Bhasker said, “needy outsiders and B-grade actresses” like her get tangled in the web of nepotism.

Pannu said she wants aspiring actors to see the difference “between someone who is pure bully and someone who genuinely wants to protect their interest”.

Taking a swipe at Ranaut’s claims that Queen started the feminist movies trend in Bollywood, Bhasker wrote, “Kanganaji started parallel cinema in 1955 with ‘Pather Panchali’, in 2013, she began feminism with film ‘Queen’ but even before that, she got India independence in 1947. An unknown, sycophantic, needy outsider says this while eating the fruits of sycophancy.”

And that is just some of it.

Scriptwriter Apurva Asrani, among those who have called out the power structures in the film industry for sidelining Rajput, praised Ranaut for taking a public stand against nepotistic culture. The writer-editor had an ugly falling out with Ranaut during the making of Simran.

“I applaud #KanganaRanaut who is braver and bolder than I am. Only I know how a ”powerful” person has viciously tried to destroy my career. I stayed silent. Because I am not so brave,” said actor and TV host Simi Grewal.

Kashyap, who worked with Ranaut as producer on Queen, joined the discourse as well.

“Success and power is a heady cocktail that affects everyone equally, be it an insider or outsider… ”Learn from me, be like me”, I never heard such things from her before 2014. And now it has come to that if someone is not with her, they are selfish and sycophants,” Kashyap wrote in Hindi.

He came up against Khosla ka Ghosla actor Ranvir Shorey’s tweet about indie filmmakers turning mainstream flunkies.

“So many independent-film-crusaders have turned mainstream-bollywood-flunkies now. These are the same people who used to rant 24/7 about the “system” for attention before they were given entry into the pearly gates of mainstream Bollywood. #Hypocrisy much?” Shorey said.

Responding to it, Kashyap said, “Do you really mean that Ranvir Shorey. If you do, please explain. Please say exactly what you mean and whose flunky is who.”

Shorey retorted that he always says what he means and is just trying to remind people where they come from.

Kashyap said no one had worked with outsiders as much as he did and was speaking up as he did not want people to change the narrative of the industry.

And so it went on, vitriolic, personal and very public.

“Insider, outsider… I know more insiders who are outsiders & even more outsiders who are insiders. Some people are born to packs, yet remain lone wolves. Others prefer the safety of the herd no matter who are where they are born to & what profession they aspire to choose,” said actor Pooja Bhatt, whose father Mahesh Bhatt produced Ranaut’s first film Gangster.

But somewhere in the middle of this maelstrom, the sadness over Rajput’s death lingered.

Casting director-filmmaker Mukesh Chhabra, who first spotted Rajput for his debut film Kai Po Che and has directed the actor’s last movie Dil Bechara, said he will always regret that he could not show the final film to his friend.

“I keep regretting that he couldn’t see the final film,” Chhabra said.

“I feel whatever prompted him to end his life, we don’t know and we will never know. So the only way to show respect is by keeping quiet,” actor Vidya Balan told PTI.

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