For the past few days, Twitter has been furiously typing away accusations against Bollywood’s supposed ‘Gatekeepers’. These include Karan Johar, Sonam Kapoor, Alia Bhatt and YRF Productions to name a few. The aftermath of Sushant Singh Rajput’s tragic death quickly turned into a blame-game from collective sadness. People have been highlighting the presence of nepotism in the Bollywood industry. They’ve jumped the gun and have declared nepotism as an indirect cause of his untimely death. It is truly heartbreaking for a young and evidently talented actor to have died of suicide. But can we really blame Bollywood for the death of an actor?
When the news of Sushant Singh’s death went public, many of his colleagues expressed their grief and shock on Twitter and Instagram. This includes various A-listers in the industry. Twitter scrutinised Karan Johar and Alia Bhatt for an old clip of Koffee with Karan. Viewers perceived them to be mocking him in the show. Twitter has accused the duo of blatantly bullying Sushant on their show, Koffee with Karan.
Soon after, there was a storm of theories about his death and battle with depression. An old interview of his on Film Companion has resurfaced. In the interview, he says, “When you’re successful as an outsider, you’re discussed but in a very hushed tone. That’s about it. But when you are an insider and you succeed, it’s multiplied by ten and if you lose, it’s divided by ten.” He followed up on his quote later in another interview, saying, “Now, I’ve created my own markers of success. At that time, I was young in the industry, I was looking for it. That validation. Now I don’t, so it doesn’t hurt,”. These quotes were enough for people to prove that Sushant had in fact been treated as an ‘outsider’ in the industry.
Pushed to the sidelines by Bollywood?
This narrative was amplified when Kangana Ranaut released a video criticising Bollywood. She condemned the inner circle for making outsiders feel alienated. She begins by castigating some media houses for publishing a narrative where a person dies of suicide, they’re mentally weak. “How can an engineering rank-holder and scholarship receiver from Stanford be mentally weak?”, she passionately says. “In his last few posts, he’s clearly begging people to watch his movies because he doesn’t have any Godfather in the industry.” “In his last few interviews, he explicitly expresses how the industry makes him feel left out. So is there no foundation to this event?” she asks. There is certainly a tone of urgency and intense sentiment in her voice. “They told him he was worthless and he believed it,” she says, invoking a haunting picture of bullying.
The jury is still out on whether the video was a PR stunt or a genuine expression of anger against the alleged injustices. However, it has surely left an impression on viewers as she gained a million followers after the release of the video. Apart from the video, there have been unconfirmed talks about how Yash Raj Films turned their back on Sushant after signing him up. They allegedly scrapped an ambitious project called, ‘Paani’ after initial offers to produce it.
A tweet by KRKBOXOFFICE states that major producer such as YRF, Dharma Productions and Balaji have banned Sushant. The concerned companies are yet to verify the statement. Several directors also tweeted cryptic tweets about the Bollywood industry. Anubhav Sinha, the director of Article 15, tweeted, “The Bollywood Privilege Club must sit down and think hard tonight. PS - Now don’t ask me to elaborate any further.” Shiv Aroor tweeted, “Kangana was right.” and Vivek Agnihotri tweeted, “Today, there will be lot of tu-tu-main-main in Bollywood’s ‘Bitching Club’.
Blame the game, not the players
Swara Bhaskar has replied to this outrage by calling it ‘height of idiocy and hypocrisy’ to blame nepotism and Bollywood for Sushant’s death. Sonam Kapoor also responded saying, "Blaming a girlfriend, ex-girlfriend, family, colleagues for someone’s death is ignorant and fucking mean spirited.” for which she received even greater backlash.
Various columnists have voiced their difference of opinion on this stance. They’ve countered Twitter’s argument for holding specific people accountable, for holding the system accountable. A columnist on shethepeople wrote, “The elephant in the room is much bigger, eviler. It is the size of the entire system that runs Bollywood. The film industry has always been a mucky place, everyone knows that. It thrives on privilege and is at first resistant to newbies trying to enter its gates.” It seems Saif Ali Khan, a seasoned star in the industry can vouch for that. “We don’t care about anybody. You know, it’s a very cutthroat line of work. But to pretend that you do care is like the ultimate hypocrisy and I think that’s an insult to the dead, you know, it’s an insult to the soul that’s gone.” It sounds like an institutional problem that can only be resolved if people dissent against these practices and prioritise empathy.
Has Sushant Singh’s Death Led To Reform in Mental Health Support?
Sushant Singh Rajput’s death has also sparked customary conversations on mental health. In fact, the Supreme Court has asked the Centre and the Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority to explain why the cost of treatment for mental illnesses isn’t being covered by medical insurance.
There is a lack of mental health services in industries and companies. Only large companies such as TATA and Infosys are able to allocate funds to mental health programs. For instance, Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) has a special initiative called TCS Cares, which focuses on the mental health and emotional wellbeing of its employees. Infosys also has an initiative called Samaritans which is a peer-to-peer counselling network. Here, employees trained to counsel to provide support to their associates. However, even due to the COVID-19 pandemic, companies are not looking to prioritise mental health. Due to the economic recession, companies are looking at cost optimisation and efficient use of resources.
Unfortunately, it’s taken someone’s death to bring mental health issues to the forefront but it’s up to us to keep the movement for reform going.