Sushant Singh Rajput’s death is no longer about himself. The Hindi film industry must recast its functioning
Over a month has passed since Sushant Singh Rajput’s death but the controversy over the actor’s decision to end his life refuses to die down. On the contrary, much to the dismay of those who had hoped the issue would be overtaken by other developments in the country and around the globe, it has got a boost with political and film personalities raising the pitch and demanding answers. Prominent among them are Rajya Sabha Member of Parliament Subramanian Swamy and actors Kangana Ranaut and Shatrughan Sinha.
While Swamy lit a candle — a message to all those candle-lighters who come out in support of dubious elements — Ranaut named and shamed prominent film personalities in her recent interviews to television channels, and Sinha lashed out at the prevalent system in the entertainment industry, saying it could not be made the fiefdom of a few.
There is nepotism but that is not the real problem. Well-known film personalities have launched their family members, and those who did not easily found others to do the needful.
By now, largely due to the relentless media attention, nearly everyone admits that nepotism and favouritism exist in the Hindi film industry, though some still maintain that the claim is exaggerated and that it certainly could not be ascribed as the reason for Rajput’s alleged suicide. While the Mumbai police investigating the case has not made any real headway, the people it has so far interrogated indicates the extent to which the network of influencers, those who play a role in making or breaking careers, has permeated in the system. It extends from big-time actors to production houses honchos to film critics to public relations agencies.
There is nepotism but that is not the real problem. Well-known film personalities have launched their family members, and those who did not easily found others to do the needful. In the end, though, the audience has had the final say. An iconic actor like Dev Anand launched his son but the latter failed to make it big. The same was the case with ‘jubilee star’ Rajendra Kumar, whose son Kumar Gaurav faded away after a few films. There are many more examples. On the other hand, some star kids made it big. Sunil Dutt’s son Sanjay Dutt; Randhir Kapoor’s daughters Karishma and Kareena; Rishi Kapoor’s son Ranbir; Shatrughan Sinha’s daughter Sonakshi Sinha… and others. The common factor is that they all got a break rather easily, while the ‘commoners’ had to struggle to even be noticed.
The real problem is the formation of groups of influential people who feed off one another, and who decide who should be promoted and who ought to be demoted. They do that to demonstrate their prowess in the film industry. If they can make or break careers, they emerge stronger. And, if an ‘outsider’ like Kangana Ranaut manages to defy their hegemony and still emerge successfully, it is taken as a slap in their face. That makes them turn even more vengeful. The more such outsiders make a name for themselves without submitting to their powers, the less their leverage gets in the industry. Ranaut mentioned the name of a production house head who told her, after she turned down a film with one of the Khans, that she was “finished”. Sadly for that man, she wasn’t. Besides being a successful actor, she is now a successful director too. she works on her own terms. Unfortunately, such examples are few.
Prominent music companies too have been dictating terms. They insist on singers of their choice, and at times even demanding a particular music director. Lesser established producers-directors have had no choice but to accede to such demands. There have been cases where a singer, having sung a song, was replaced by another singer for the final version of the music record.
Influential people Camps existed even in earlier years, but they were guided by personal rapports and not driven by wrong intent.
This desire by a select few — and it’s not a coincidence that nearly all of them come from established filmi families — to control the industry is a relatively new phenomenon, perhaps going back to a couple of decades. Their parents, uncle, etc; were heavyweights and they had their preferences, but there was never an institutionalized attempt to stifle talent. This is also true of earlier years, the fifties, sixties, and thereafter. Personal and professional reasons guided those preferences. Let’s take a few examples. Noted film producer-director BR Chopra rarely worked with iconic singer Mohammad Rafi, preferring Mahendra Kapoor instead. This was because of a lack of rapport between the singer and the producer-director. Music director OP Nayyar never used Lata Mangeshkar’s voice, saying that it did not suit his type of music. Raj Kapoor’s first choice was singer Mukesh, while those of Naushad, Roshan, and OP Nayyar was Rafi. Camps existed even in those days, but they were guided by personal rapports and not driven by wrong intent. Thus, directors Mehboob Khan and K Asif preferred music composer Naushad. Of course, those who did not belong to a camp had a disadvantage; the brilliant music director Roshan, for instance, did not get the due he deserved. And yet he established himself, with no group undercutting him.
Sushant Singh Rajput’s death is no longer about himself. The Hindi film industry must recast its functioning. Veterans need to speak out and not maintain the diplomatic silence they have until now. It would be sad indeed for the industry if more tragedies of the Rajput kind were to emerge.
1. The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of PGurus.