I am a former journalist who dedicated the first half of my career to state television. This only serves to explain my love, my reverence and my understanding of TV. To add to that, I have been living in India for almost six years and have had the privilege of doing a short stint for one of the ZEE network news channels. My main take-away is that while Mauritius retains Europe’s influence and phlegm, India has followed into the American footsteps of sensationalism, aided by celebrity journalism.
One of these celebrities in India is Arnab Goswami. This is a living legend who needs no publicity, visibility or TRPs, for being a one-man show worth trillions of rupees. I knew of the man’s reputation for being one of the loudest voices on TV, with actual barking and bellowing at the rows of guests which line up his programmes. That style and format didn’t appeal to me in the least. Not until the death of Sushant Singh Rajput and my captivation with this case.
The narrative in India since the day of Sushant’s demise on 14 June fixed itself on depression, leading to suicide. Few news accounts used the usual journalism buffer words such as ‘alleged’. Most television reports paid little attention to the alternative of a staged fatality. But one journalist’s attention was caught on the discrepancies. One man who’s ‘Nation Needs to Know’ tagline has taken on its true meaning. It is finding angles, twists, key witnesses to interview and is scrutinising every detail sent by the public via social media. Arnab Goswami questions, questions and questions… because the Nation Needs to Know.
On Friday night (31 July), I was glued to Arnab’s 9 p.m. prime-time show. His line-up included Smita Parikh, someone closely connected to the Singh Rajput family. On also comes Siddhart Pithani, who lived with the actor for a year. Only then, as the anchor queries both Smita and Siddhart, does the audience realise that Pithani is among the only ones to have seen the assumed hanging body and removed the latter even before the police arrived. Now in Hyderabad and not yet questioned by the police, Pithani left the interview with Arnab mid-way.
But even before these fiery details came to the fore, Arnab had explored other leads prompted by the zillions of messages being sent to his team. Why were there two different ambulances implicated in the transfer of Sushant’s body from his home to the hospital on the day of his demise? Who were those who attended the supposed party at his place the night before, in particular which politician’s son? Smita Parikh then drops another bomb: since the death of his former manager, Disha Salian, 6 days before his own, Sushant had extreme anxiety. He had even told his sister: “…they will come after me”.
The show goes on to diffuse images of the Bihar investigators currently in Mumbai, after a First Information Report (FIR) was lodged in Patna by Sushant’s father, KK Singh. Arnab’s reporters are not allowed to speak to the Bihari officers, who are shoved into a Mumbai police armoured vehicle and driven off. At this point, our hero is on his feet… shouting, as is his custom. But for once, I am right there shouting with him because my horror is absolute. Police in Mumbai, on screen, silencing their Patna counterparts. They are being forbidden to give statements to the media after their revelations in the case, connected to financial transactions involving Rhea Chakraborty. She had been Sushant’s live-in girlfriend until a week before his death. As at Sunday (2 August), the top investigator arrived from Patna to lead his team is imposed a 14-day quarantine in a government facility. Worse, as the case becomes evidently tied to the so-called suicide of Dishan Salian, her case file is ‘accidentally deleted’ by the Mumbai Police. Arnab speaks to the camera: “Listen to me, Uddhav Thackeray (Chief Minister of Maharashtra), the truth will come out.”
On Saturday (1 August), Goswami broadcasts an hour-long interview of Sushant’s former girlfriend of nearly 7 years, Ankita Lokhande. He quizzes her about the possibility of this stellar soul taking his own life, after aligning all of the pressures he would have been through over the past few years. From blind items in the press, to false ‘Me Too’ allegations, or to losing his money over Rhea’s spending sprees… Ankita is categorical: that wasn’t who Sushant was. She insists on his genius and that he should only be remembered as such. Arnab closes the interview in a breaking, seemingly tearful voice, echoing what we, viewers, are all thinking: “I wish I’d met him.”