Sushant Singh Rajput’s death by suicide at 34 made his grieving, enraged fans reopen the nepotistic debate in Bollywood. So, when star kids in their social media obits called Rajput a brilliant star, apologised that they could have done more, and highlighted normalising mental health, they got lambasted. They were accused of cashing on his death and being the actual perpetrators of perpetuating the outsider, and in Sushant’s case outcasting him, not taking his calls, stalling his films, basically isolating him. It got ugly.
Then someone called Karan Johar a hijra. This didn’t sit well with actor Rajat Barmecha of Udaan (2010), web series Girl in the City (GITC) and Hey Prabhu. Barmecha, not a product of nepotism, had already posted one video questioning film personalities (not with the same angst as Kangana Ranaut), “Where are they when the person is alive and actually needs to hear something good?” But after the hijra comment, he made a second video to explain how abusing Johar makes us become exactly like those who made Sushant feel alone and cornered. And making ‘hijra’ sound derogatory in 2020 is a setback for all the progress we’ve made with LGBTQ rights. “People DM’ed me with abusive language, said that now KJO will take you in his film… I didn’t reply as these things don’t affect me.”
Perhaps growing a thick skin tided Barmecha through his own disappointments in the industry. Born in Ladlun and bred in Delhi (his alma mater is Bal Bharti Public School, Brij Vihar), he decided to try acting when he came to Mumbai to join his cousin’s diamond business at 17-18. Surviving on Rs 6,000 a month, sharing one flat with seven boys, giving 10 auditions a day, dealing with slimy film coordinators, and even escaping the infamous casting couch “was tough as f**k”. All of it was worth it after he bagged the lead in Vikramaditya Motwane’s directorial Udaan that completes a decade in July.
Barmecha and Motwane’s debut film became India’s first film to be selected into Cannes, after a seven-year hiatus. For Barmecha, going to Cannes, representing the film at the Doha Film Festival and meeting Robert DeNiro, getting complimented by Big B and bagging the Debut of the Year award…all this at 21, the assumption was the life after this would be on the lines of “and they say, the rest in history”.
That wasn’t the case. Big directors showered him with praise, but their words didn’t materialise into projects. “‘If you say I am a good actor and I could carry the entire film on my shoulders, then why are you not giving me work?’ I would wonder. I got a lot of father-son, arthouse aspirational roles, but after the respect I got from Udaan, I didn’t want to do a s**t film for the money or because a big star was in it.”
His filmography shows 2011 populated with his work – Shaitan, two short films Gulmohar and Finish Line, then the unreleased Disco Valley (2012) – and the next project is directly 2016 GITC web series. In the four-year-gap, his star value dimmed. He found his name in articles like ‘Brilliant Actors Who Disappeared after their first film’. He recalls an award function where the organisers forgot to allot him a seat, and he left the show feeling humiliated. At a fashion show, the paparazzi didn’t bat an eyelid to click him till the organiser intervened.
“Such instances can affect you if you are not emotionally strong. Luckily, I have a strong headspace and had people I could talk to, so I would get affected for 2-3 days, and then move on without baggage.”
Barmecha got his groove back with GITC. From a cameo in this YouTube series by Disney, he became one of the leads in the third installment on popular demand. “We crossed 200 million views. Every day, I get messages from people who connected with my character Karthik.” His MX Player’s series, Hey Prabhu, on erectile dysfunction, is another hit.
These positive updates happened after Barmecha watched Into the Wild (2007) five years ago. The film changed his perspective on life. He’s now an avid traveler and has read many spiritual books. “Earlier, I wanted to earn lots of money and fame. I would compare myself to different people. Now, I feel there may have been f**k ups from my side as well. I think we look for success in the wrong places and are very quick to write off people. Together as a society we are creating lots of pressure. If we don’t learn to be kinder, there will be another Sushant.”