Exploitation of the helpless is a recurrent theme in cinema. When death and despair write the screenplay, the villains are the high and mighty. They’re vanquished at the climax by the hero by the dint of his hard work and honesty. He gets the girl and the box office. The public forensics of nepotism and prejudice lays the blame for Sushant Singh Rajput’s suicide on the cabal of B-Town families and superstars. The postmortem accolades for Rajput came from actors and directors, many of whom never cast him, invited him to their glam parties or liked to be seen with him.
Now social media is playing the underdog’s champion, targeting Hindi cinema’s reigning gods. Singling out celebrities, especially soft targets, is a pastime of the vicariously moral population. Success is not easily forgiven because it isn’t forgotten. Alia Bhatt wisecracking about Rajput being a nobody on Koffee with Karan inflamed the digital world. Followers are abandoning both her and buddy Karan Johar on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram at a pace faster than Hrithik Roshan in Race.
Sonam Kapoor and sidekick Swara Bhaskar are being trolled mercilessly. Victimised actors and directors are crawling out of the woodwork with their own sob stories of the establishment scuttling their careers because they didn’t suck up. A director laments of a powerful acting family threatening him for refusing a franchise; a young star says he was asked by a casting director to show his genitals when he was a rookie; a famous actor drove his actress girlfriend to madness—horror stories abound. The technicolour universe of Bollywood is suddenly black and white. How fair is to attack only celebrity targets?
Karan Johar directed Rajput in Drive. Taapsee Pannu says she didn’t need the casting couch to succeed. Rajkummar Rao appeared in Ramesh Sippy’s and Anurag Kashyap’s films. Vicky Kaushal didn’t have a godfather. Parineeti Chopra was a damp squib despite Priyanka Chopra being her cousin. Sure, there is a Bollywood mafia which controls the destinies of newcomers who have to take humiliation in their stride and sign unfair contracts. It’s the price they pay, hoping to be stars like Akshay Kumar one day.
Yash Raj Films didn’t let Rajput break his contract; Shekhar Kapur recounted producers refusing to fund a Sushant Singh Rajput film subsequently. On the other hand, Ranveer Singh was let go by the Chopras. Member of Anil Kapoor clan, he knew how to play the game, plug himself into the power grid, get invited to the right parties and married an A-Lister. He knew the ropes.
In any universe where power matters only those who have brown nose succeed. Rajput was a terrific actor and a likeable guy. Perhaps it’s easy for the Johars, Bhatts and Kapoors to play the game because they are the game. MS Dhoni didn’t belong to the Sachin-dominated Indian cricket club. Yet he became a legend and Rajput played him. Dhoni did that by beating the game. Sushant paid for it because he couldn’t.