Is being stone-hearted, being insensitive, or de-sensitized, a virtue?
Talented actor Sushant Singh Rajput’s suicide has opened a Pandora’s Box. The Hindi film industry crudely referred to as Bollywood, is under the lens. There is by now no doubt that Rajput was suffering from severe depression and was under medication. It has also been largely accepted that the cause was neither financial nor personal. The cause that pushed the 34-year old into taking his own life was professional.
Rajput had created a niche for himself as an exceptionally good actor. His films Kai Po Che, MS Dhoni: The Untold Story, and Chhichhore, demonstrated his outstanding abilities. But he had shared with some of his colleagues in the film industry his deep frustration over the conduct of a section of the film industry, which pointedly not just ignored him but also possibly placed obstacles in his path to progress. he was made to feel like an outsider by certain sections in an industry that he had chosen to make his own with such love and passion.
The outsiders rarely get big banner breaks or the many popular awards, whose functions are graced by the industry bigwigs—the insiders.
The incident has resulted in a flurry of remarks from various people connected with the film industry. One section vehemently denied that any group or cartel of influential film-makers and actors existed. According to its members, the film industry treated everyone as equals in the sense that all got a chance to prove their worth. The ones that were successful raced ahead. They were then much in demand in big banner production houses, and actors vied to be cast alongside them.
The second section admitted to groups and favouritism but added that there were enough examples to show that even actors who were ‘independent’ or ‘outsiders’ have made it big. The names of Shah Rukh Khan, Akshay Kumar, and Kangana Ranaut are offered as examples. Once you made it big, you obviously became everyone’s favorite.
A third section trashes these arguments. It says that ‘outsiders’ have always had it difficult in the industry, as compared to those who had filmy connections. The outsiders rarely get big banner breaks or the many popular awards, whose functions are graced by the industry bigwigs—the insiders. They can enter the club only if they acknowledge the superiority of the insider, and offer appropriate respect. If you refuse to bend, howsoever talented you may be, you will continue to remain on the margins.
That said, it is true that those who enter the film industry do so in the full knowledge that they will face enormous challenges. There will be groups, cabals, and back-biters. There will be career lows. The big fish will always be seeking to devour the small ones. They know that the industry is ruthless, and there are no permanent friends or enemies. That only success counts. That insensitivity reigns. You have to be strong and stone-solid from within. But perhaps Sushant Singh Rajput was not.
We can argue that for every one Sushant Singh Rajput, there are ten others in a similar situation, battling it out. That may be so, and may no more lives be lost in such tragic fashion.
The question is should that be held against him? Is being stone-hearted, being insensitive, or de-sensitized, a virtue? It’s a shame that veterans of the film industry, with quite a few of them being outsiders themselves, have chosen to either remain silent or mouth platitudes. They have seen the film industry from up close, for decades. Surely they are aware of the changes that have taken place in the workplace, in the attitude of people, changes that cannot be considered worthy.
Take the fifties and the sixties. Dilip Kumar was an outsider, and so was Dev Anand. But neither faced stigma nor discrimination of the kind we see today. They held their own against an insider, Raj Kapoor, and all three flourished and bonded admirably. Then, later, there were Dharmendra, Jeetendra, Rajesh Khanna, Amitabh Bachchan, Shatrughan Sinha… All outsiders and enormously successful. Those were different days.
Should it not make one wonder why Sushant Singh Rajput, despite the talent he displayed in film after film, never landed a role in a big banner film? Or never got an award that is patronized by the industry heavyweights? Apologists of the cabal pontificate today that ending one’s life is not the solution. Of course, it’s not. But how of them had reached out to Sushant when he was going through the depression phase, which proved fatal?
Petty rivalries or cutting to size people always happen in any workplace, but when an institution such as the Hindi film industry lands in the grip of an internal mafia, it’s time to take note. We can argue that for every one Sushant Singh Rajput, there are ten others in a similar situation, battling it out. That may be so, and may no more lives be lost in such tragic fashion. But, surely, the film industry must do course correction. Denials or giving verbal spins cannot be a substitute. Industry bodies must raise their voice.
1. The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of PGurus.