Sushant Singh Rajput’s death has opened a Pandora’s box about ‘vicious cartels’ operating in Bollywood. The late actor, who called himself an outsider, wanted to reverse the system and failed miserably.
Actor Sushant Singh Rajput’s suicide has opened up a can of worms about vicious cartels operating in the world’s largest market for cinema that has a whopping $5 billion annual turnover and produces a film a day for the whole year.
Like sparks flowing out of firecrackers, a host of actors are taking to social media to narrate their side of the dark stories, arguing why they could not protest then and had to remain silent. Some recalled similar strange deaths of film stars like Divya Bharti in Bollywood and Mahua Roy Chowdhury in Tollywood which were never probed by the cops to its logical conclusion. Bharti fell from her flat to a bloody death, Chowdhury suffered burns from a stove explosion. In both cases, a mysterious hand of a rival was suspected. Rajput, who called himself an outsider, wanted to reverse the system and failed miserably, eventually committing suicide.
Kangana Ranaut, the top actress known for her strong views, called the death a scar, a wound that will not heal easily.
Sitting before a camera in a striped blue shirt and black trousers, Ranawat cited some examples to bolster her arguments. “Bollywood Live wrote on August 23, 2017 that Rajput would always listen to his songs while doing sex, he was a true Narcissist. Mumbai Mirror, a top tabloid wrote on December 16, 2016 that Rajput looks like a truck driver and the same daily wrote again on February 22, 2019 that Rajput smashed a bottle on the head of a director. Another daily DNA wrote on October 18, 2018 Rajput raped his co-actor and could go to jail.”
“This is not journalism. These are vultures preying for dead bodies, jackals waiting for someone to fall dead. These are journalists controlled by the Bollywood mafia,” said Ranaut.
It has often been reported how Bollywood films which deal with inner tensions, fault lines, love and death, are lucrative but very risky because of the cartels. In short, the big stars keep the biggest slice of the cake, crumbs are meant for the juniors.
The moment Ranaut finished, others fired their cannons.
Kamal Rashid Khan, an actor with a huge Twitter following, said in a cryptic message some hours ago: “Entire Bollywood knows what Sallu (Salman Khan) did to Arijit Singh, Vivek Oberoi, Ranbir Kapoor, Aishwarya Rai, John Abraham.” Khan had in February 2020 tweeted that Yashraj Films, Sajid Nadiadwala Films, Salman Khan, Balaji Telefilms, KJo, Dinesh Vijayan, Bhansali Films and T-Series have all boycotted Rajput who will now have to do TV series or short films to make a living. “No one knows how a gang can boycott a person?”
In faraway Patna, Sudhir Kumar Ojha, a lawyer who claimed to be a friend of Rajput filed a case for abetment of suicide, intentional insult and criminal intimidation, in Bihar’s Muzaffarpur court against six prominent Bollywood filmmakers—Karan Johar, Aditya Chopra, Sanjay Leela Bhansali, Sajid Nadiadwala, Ekta Kapoor and actor Salman Khan.
“It seems that a situation was created by the accused which prompted the young actor to take such a drastic step,” said Ojha.
But top lawyers said the case could fall flat unless top actors from Mumbai visit Muzaffarnagar and testify against the accused. “Everyone must stand up and blame the ones named in the case, else it will just not work. If film stars speak, it could be a huge scandal for Bollywood,” said a top lawyer in Delhi, requesting anonymity. A few political leaders in Bihar including Jan Adhikar Party (JAP) president Pappu Yadav also jumped into the fray, demanding a CBI probe. It did not cut much ice because of Yadav’s past criminal records.
In Kolkata, seasoned editor and author Gautam Bhattacharya took to his Facebook page to highlight how Anupam Kher, seasoned actor and producer, had threatened to ruin the career of Reeta Kayral, who had dubbed the entire role for Kirron Kher in the Rituparno Ghosh film Bariwali in 2000. Kayral had gone to a popular Bengali television chat show to highlight how she dubbed for Kirron, but her name was subsequently deleted from the film’s credit line. “And then I was threatened by Anupam Kher that he will ruin my career in movies,” Kayral told the anchor. The show was recorded some years ago and Kayral, a popular character artist, died of cancer in 2018. Strangely, the director of this award-winning movie, did not utter a word.
This is not all. Sreelekha Mitra, a top actress from Kolkata went to a news channel and blamed seasoned Bengali actor, director and producer Prasenjit Chatterjee and actress turned producer Rituparna Sengupta for ruining her career. “They worked overtime to mess my life, I was reduced to playing second fiddle. Do not wear white shirts when I die, I hate hypocrites. I have tried hard, very hard. No one touched me.”
Chandan Chattaraj, a human resources expert associated with Uflex Group, says, in any ideal situation, people should speak out. But it rarely happens in India. “People are insecure, they are afraid of losing their chances, their jobs, their everything. It’s a very, very peculiar phenomenon. Rajput’s death has helped many turn bold, even if it means talking after decades.”
In Mumbai, seasoned playback singer and winner of many awards, Sonu Nigam, said the cartels exist not just in movies but also in the music industry. “You could see another death soon, a death from the world of Bollywood music, do not be shocked. I am tired of facing these cartels, tired of getting shafted by this mafia of music companies. The director wants you, the producer wants you, the actor is happy to lip sync with your singing, but the music companies put a spanner.”
Cops in Mumbai reached out to Nigam soon after his video went viral, so did doctors and psychiatrists. Everyone was worried about the mental status of the star who once dominated Bollywood.
There were others. Actor Govind Ahuja, known mononymously as Govinda, said it was Salman Khan who ruined his comeback after a failed political stint. “I was left nowhere. I was not touched by the producers, directors. Everyone told me that there is a hidden ban on you and you should take it easy, else do serials. I know the Khan Gang was pushing the agenda,” said Govinda, voted the tenth-greatest star on stage or screen in a 1999 BBC News Online Poll.
Experts say it’s difficult for any star to ignore the big bucks of Bollywood and chart their own lives. For the records, India produces an astonishing 1,900 films a year on average, of which Hindi-language Bollywood accounts for about 360 plus. Rest comes from the Bengali, Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, Kannada, Marathi, Gujarati and Punjabi languages. What is more important is only Bollywood has a nationwide visibility that attracts everyone to the film world of Mumbai like flies to killer lamps.
This is just one part of the story.
There is a huge block across the world for Indian films, comprising some 50 territories. The biggest is in the United States, followed by the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom, Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Australia and New Zealand. Of late, North African nations along with some regions in France, Germany and Switzerland are also high on Bollywood films.
In short, Bollywood is big, its reach extends well beyond India. And everyone wants to be a part of it. Remember Hollywood accounts for just 10% of the Indian box office, the rest is Bollywood. Today, in this cash rich market there is a new villain, the filmmaker himself. He is seen as a schemer, a dubious character who speaks double language, one in front of your face and one the moment you turn around.
He is today worse than the ubiquitous Indian mother-in-law, he is the embodiment of what many believe ails Bollywood. Rajput’s death has had a direct impact on the lives of those considered rich and powerful in Bollywood. This has seen a direct impact on the social media handles of some celebrities, who have lost or gained millions of followers depending on the side they have chosen to be or speak.
Consider this one. Ever since she started talking about the cartels, Ranaut saw an increase in Instagram followers from about 2 million to 3.2 million (and counting), while Karan Johar’s profile registered a rapid drop. It was clear social media users were enraged by the non-recognition of outsider talent in Bollywood. Across the nation, hundreds of school and college students poured their feelings on social media and wrote why they cannot support celebrities who value personal relationships over talent when it comes to giving work in the industry. Some started an online petition requesting others to boycott movies of the more popular clans in the film industry. “I have signed an online petition requesting for a ban on movies of Karan Johar and the star kids of the Khans,” remarked Ranabir Bhattacharya, a researcher.
Many have started questioning why movies with a glamorous star cast are usually the ones that drive most award events and if the awards are all rigged. “Let’s get one thing clear. This is the time to make voices heard. If Bollywood cannot value our voices and opinions, it will not have our support at the theatres,” said Akshay Singh, a documentary filmmaker. Singh and his 500-something group of friends have unfollowed Alia Bhatt, Ranbir Kapoor and other star kids and followed talented newcomers in Bollywood. “Our movement will grow,” Singh sounded confident.
Abhinav Kashyap, director, said he would like the government to launch a detailed investigation into Rajput’s death. “I fear his death is just the tip of the iceberg. My experience is no different. I have experienced exploitation and bullying first hand.”
“So here is my story 10 years after Dabangg. The reason I moved out of making Dabangg2 ten years ago is because Arbaaz Khan in collusion with Sohail Khan and family was trying to take control of my career by bullying me. Arbaaz Khan sabotaged my second project with Shree Ashtavinayak Films that I was signed up with by personally calling their head Raj Mehta and threatening him with dire consequences if they made a film with me. I had to return the signing money to Shree Ashtavinayak films and move to Viacom Pictures. They did the same thing. Only this time the sabotage was from Sohail Khan and he intimidated the then Viacom CEO Vikram Malhotra. My project was sabotaged and I was made to return my signing fee of Rs 7 crores plus interest of Rs 90-odd lakh. It’s only then that Reliance Entertainment came to my rescue and we forged an enduring partnership for my film Besharam. I am not going to give up like Sushant Singh Rajput. I refuse to cow down and will fight on till I see the end of either them or me. Enough tolerance! It’’ time to fight back.”
Rajput could not fight back. His bucket list of wishes remains unfulfilled. He wanted to buy a Lamborghini, meditate at Kailash Mansarovar, buy a horse and learn archery. He should have juggled his wish list and learnt archery first.
He could have killed the werewolves of his life.