ARABELLA SEEBALUCK

This isn’t the name of some crime story by Ram Gopal Verma or Anurag Kashyap. There is a deep, disturbing popular clamour… something that sounds like the churning of lava within the earth’s core, before it erupts to the surface to scald everything in its path. There is an uproar, a shouting, an outcry of fans. The same fans who would be at their wit’s end over his movies, his latest ad, his latest interview… anything that Sushant Singh Rajput lived and breathed.

A few weeks ago, I was stunned by his death, imputed to suicide by hanging. The media said he was depressed. I’ll leave it at that, since, as someone who has first-hand experience of the disease, there is little in Sushant’s countenance or utterance that denotes depression. But appearances being deceptive, face value becomes redundant. Being very far away from anything Bollywoodian, I am in no position to give an informed opinion.

What I do know about, however, is the hum and the drum, the shouts of ‘murder’ getting louder and louder. Conspiracy theories, supported by pages of hearsay, speculations, screenshots, reported speech, quotes, attributions of all sorts, bits and pieces from an ongoing police investigation… all carried and imparted by friends and followers. This is a beehive at work, poring over Sushant’s social media accounts, those of the ‘persons of interest’, as well as his close family and friends. Even a handful of politicians have lent their voices to the chorus of disapproval. But there is a deafening silence countering this rising protest: that of the industry Sushant belonged to. Bollywood big names, who were so quick to insta or tweet their tears after his tragic death, are now all hush.

Sushant’s fans have come up with various theories on the reason behind his death, which they categorically reject as being self-inflicted. A few of these ‘assumptions’ pertain to professional rivalry, economic gain and romantic jealousy. These notions went viral in the days following his death, as many rebuffed the suicide claim. However, one story persists. One that ties the actor’s death to that of his manager, only 5 days before his own. A series of events starting in 2013, with the alleged suicide of actress Jiah Khan, sounded alarm bells in many people’s minds. Jiah Khan’s own mother has come forward on social media, connecting the dots.

Online riots have emerged, with the hashtags #BoycottBollywood, #JusticeforSushant or #CBIforSushant leading the way. The public sphere wants the case out of Mumbai police hands, as it is believed some of their members are on the payroll of notorious underworld figures. The main demand now is for Sushant Singh Rajput’s death to be investigated by India’s Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI). Enough movies have portrayed these connections to make it fair to presume that these are a form of fictionalised reality. Right now in Mumbai, salient similarities in the plots of Sushant, Jiah and the former manager’s death could indeed warrant a CBI probe.

Meanwhile, Sushant’s last movie trailer – Dil Bechara – was released. Fans ensured it became one of the most watched trailers in 24 hours, reaching 32 million views in that period (second only to SRK’s ‘Zero’ – 50 million views in 24h). The movie will be released on an OTT platform on 24 July, alongside another 6 films by actors and production houses who usually secure higher box office figures. The word is already out, by fans and fellow actors too, to honour Sushant’s legacy and make him the biggest release on that day.

What is happening in Bollywood is a ‘Me Too’ moment of another kind. So many actors, repudiated and relinquished by the industry, are coming forward, claiming their stake of the territory. The audience’s thunder is gaining momentum, as they demand to shun superstars, in favour of the less-reputed actors and lesser-known productions. Outsiders and underdogs are being ushered in to replace megastars and their mafia. Bollywood’s ‘first families’ are being brandished as criminals and murderers… and may very well be toppled in the coming months, or years.

What comes to my mind is a scene of poignant news footage, used and re-used in films, and which remains one of the most haunting since 2003. The once all-powerful, almighty Saddam Hussein is ousted… his statue knocked down by an enraged populace. It echoes the images of a fallen Harvey Weinstein… and so many other dictators in their own dens, who oppressed and disposed of their peers as they would swat a fly. But, for them, it all ended the same way. And if we are to learn anything from these powerful real-life plots, it’s: Vox Populi, Vox Dei[1].

[1] The voice of the people is the voice of God