The death of actor Sushant Singh Rajput continues to roil the film industry. From the excessive power of closed-door cliques to the gaslighting at award shows, from the snide poison of blind items to the family-run camps that dispense roles and break careers, the circumstances of Rajput’s suicide have led film professionals as well as the wider audience to call many things into question. Much of this introspection was overdue. Like all old and creaky institutions, the Hindi film industry is propped up by privilege and barricaded by walls that only serve to keep talent at bay. But, increasingly, the noise around nepotism, amplified by the anger hormones of social media, simply points to a script in need of a monotone villain.
For any community, the death of a young, promising member shakes up things. In his brief life, Sushant Singh Rajput became the exemplar of the outsider who forced doors to open. His unconventional choices, his love for physics, his alleged frustrations with the workings of the industry, and evident talent all added up to a figure whose loss has felt personal to a wider community. The Bollywood struggler who chances his talent against the whims of an inscrutable machine only to lose is as old a myth as cinema itself.
In the absence of answers — a police investigation into Rajput’s death is ongoing — a frenzied hunt for accountability has begun. Like in everything else in these algorithm-driven times, there are as many extreme versions of truth as there are echo chambers. Are the actors speaking up fiery warriors breaking down the walls of the ancien regime? Or are they simply people with an axe to grind, a narrow politics to peddle? Like a lot of cinema, this furious battle mirrors the anger and polarisation in the larger society and culture. But the story of Rajput’s life — its promise, achievement and complexity — threatens to become cannibalised by a contest that is no longer about him.