What if one day Sushant Singh Rajput returns, as if the time since his death exactly a year ago had been a Harry Houdini-like trick? Or an Andy Kaufman-like performance intended as a social experiment?
We know, from endless interviews, eulogies, and obituaries, that Sushant loved taking chances, some as risky as dropping out of an engineering course months before finishing it to move to Mumbai and pursue a career in acting. We know he had plans to travel to space. We know he once announced 12 films in a row - to be made on such personalities as APJ Abdul Kalam and Chanakya.
He always dreamt big, and to imagine him returning in the flesh and humbling an army of rogue television news channels, investigative bodies of the central government, and internet detectives who could give QAnon a run for their money, feels like a revenge for the onslaught on sanity and sensibility that we had to witness for the past 365 days.
The shameful absurdity that we had had to witness isn’t surprising if one just looks at what unfolded in the hours following Sushant’s death itself.
While social media was instantly filled with speculations of Bollywood elites forcing Sushant to kill himself, television news channels barged into Sushant’s home to broadcast footage of his grieving father live. For a couple of days, photos of Sushant’s corpse circulated online. And within 24 hours, Kangana Ranaut declared on video that Sushant’s death was a “planned murder” by the “movie mafia”.
COVID-19 cases piled up, the economy tanked, and China prowled inside India’s borders. India’s television news turned a blind eye to these and focused on the minutiae of Sushant’s life, such as finding out who rolled him his joints. One channel brought in a supposed paranormal investigator to communicate with his 'tadapti atma'.
Once Sushant’s family in Bihar filed a First Information Report (FIR) against the actor’s girlfriend Rhea Chakraborty and her family, the bloodhounds were joined by the Central Bureau of Investigation, the Narcotics Control Bureau, and the Enforcement Directorate. Are Bengalis, like Rhea, black magic experts, and could she have pushed Sushant to death, a channel speculated.
Or was it channels? To recollect those days with journalistic detail, before prime time news was compelled to shift its attention to the Bengal elections of 2021, and the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, is like trying to make sense of a prolonged fugue state. The amount of hours on television news as well as public money devoted to what seemed to be a straight-forward case of suicide possibly related to Sushant’s mental health makes it seem like we should be having a Warren Commission Report-sized study of the entire tamasha by now.
To wonder what would unfold if Sushant suddenly reappeared is wishful thinking I often indulge in. Sushant’s first scene in Bollywood, in the movie Kai Po Che! (2013), features his cricket-obsessed character animatedly enjoying a match on television. How would Sushant react were he to see exactly what happened on Indian news channels following his death?
Like the vultures that hovered over a blood-soaked Chambal in Sushant’s doomed 2019 film Sonchiriya, an entire country descended upon his corpse to play judge, jury, and executioner.
In the process, what did we forget about Sushant Singh Rajput, a name that perhaps instantly brings to mind lurid spectacles like the OJ Simpson murder trial or the Clinton-Lewisky scandal?
We forget that Sushant once used to be called the “next SRK” by a large section of Bollywood fans who could not help but notice the similarities between the phenomenal rise of a young actor from outside Mumbai, who had also worked his way up the ladder via television, and Shah Rukh Khan.
Trained by Shiamak Davar, he was a good dancer, frequently popping up behind established stars in Bollywood award shows and live performances. A student of Barry John, much like Shah Rukh Khan, Sushant picked interesting films to act in.
His debut Kai Po Che! starred him as part of an ensemble. His track did not have a romantic interest. He died in the end as well. In his next, Shuddh Desi Romance, Sushant had the unheroic role of a bumbling fool, way out of his depth in dealing with two women far more sure of their emotions than him. Some years later, Sushant starred as the eponymous Byomkesh Bakshy in Dibakar Banerjee’s anachronistic take on the classic Bengali sleuth.
At one point, he was attached to high-concept projects of independent-minded directors like Shekhar Kapur and Anand Gandhi. Sonchiriya, a film as terrific as it was risky, was another example of Sushant’s left-field choices. And in between there was the Mahendra Singh Dhoni biopic, in which his copycat helicopter shot is evidence of his commitment to his roles. A year after a most unfortunate day, here’s hoping that we search for Sushant in his cinema and not in his cinders.
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