Undermining Sushant Rajput’s tragic death

Sushant Singh Rajput died by suicide last month. This was tragic. Rajput — a young man from outside the world of cinema — had truly come into his own in the Mumbai film industry, with a range of critically-acclaimed and commercially-successful films. His death sparked an outpouring of grief in the film industry, in his home state of Bihar, and across urban and semi-urban India.

But the tragedy has now taken a somewhat bizarre turn. His death should have triggered a conversation about mental health, and the insecurities that are driving young people to take extreme steps. It should have triggered a conversation about the structure of the film industry, and the pressures even stars — and Rajput was a star — work under. And yes, it should have triggered a debate about the power matrix in the industry.

But what has happened is that, driven by social media, an entire narrative has been constructed about how Rajput was a victim of a nepotistic industry, which only favours its own. Nepotism is a real problem in Bollywood. And that debate must take place. But this narrative, and all kinds of conspiracy theories, have now found their way into the police investigation into Rajput’s case. A suicide merits an investigation. But in this case, film reviewers who may have rated Rajput’s films poorly are being called for questioning; producers who may not have done a project with Rajput are being held accountable; talk show hosts who may have joked about Rajput are being blamed; actors who had little to do with Rajput are using it as an opportunity to project themselves as the subaltern battling an entrenched elite. This is not the way structures of power can be interrogated. Instead, it smacks of mob justice. It ignores the complex factors that drive a person to the end. It appears driven by political motivations. And it undermines Rajput’s life, legacy, and tragic death.