On June 14 this year, we clock 365 days since we woke up to the tragic news of Bollywood actor Sushant Singh Rajput being found dead at his Mumbai residence. The blow was swift, but its impact continues to rattle even the sturdiest minds.
Barring Indian actress Sridevi’s untimely death in Dubai in 2018 due to accidental drowning in a bathtub, no other celebrity death has rattled the collective consciousness of movie-mad Indians like the way Sushant Singh Rajput’s loss has triggered.
He’s gone, but he will never be forgotten. Every development in his death probe is being watched closely and the intrigue shows no sign of letting up as three central law-enforcement agencies in India get down to the task of finding out what led the actor to take this extreme step.
Rajput’s loss and absence has become emblematic of the rot that seems to be plaguing Bollywood. For the first time in decades, influential and suave Bollywood movie moguls, star kingmakers and precious star-kids are being viewed with a different lens. Their privilege and access has become a burden that they can’t seem to shrug off.
Rajput, who is now symbolic of a young man who rose the ranks of Bollywood through sheer grit and merit, seems to be taking one for the outsiders’ team who are furiously trying to crack the famously clannish world of musicals and high-voltage drama in Mumbai.
His death also uncovered the inherent decay in the media circles. Star television anchors become the paragon of terrible reporting as they began doling out of judgements instead of stating facts and reports that are double-checked and substantiated.
Rajput’s girlfriend Rhea Chakraborty saw a witch-hunt being unleashed on her as she was accused of pushing her lover to self-harm. All this was done without an iota of evidence from any proper law-enforcement agencies, but by a vicious media trial stoked by hate and self-righteous anger. Rajput’s death had unwittingly opened a Pandora box in popular culture.
The sole silver lining in Rajput’s loss has been the heightened sensitivity towards how Bollywood treats its fresh-off-the-boat talents and a new-found respect for those who live in the public eye.
As an entertainment journalist, I have become more sensitive towards actors who are struggling to remain relevant. Rajput had notoriously fought and tried hard for acceptance all his adult life, but he never got that respect while he was alive. But in his death, he seems to have found an army of believers who seem to respect his journey and his hard-won success.
For instance, when news broke that actor Kartik Aaryan was being allegedly side-lined by powerful producers like Karan Johar or ousted out of projects due to his ‘unprofessional behaviour’, utmost care was taken while slamming both parties.
The heightened sensitivity while reporting an actor’s professional despair is something new to most entertainment journalists, and that’s one of the biggest legacies left behind by Rajput. His vacuum can never be fulfilled, but his legacy of taking one for the underdogs is still going strong. With Rajput’s untimely and tragic death, we have inherited that feeling of incredible loss and the only way to pay it forward is to treat actors and their body of work with more respect than before.
Even in his death, Rajput continues to give us valuable life lessons.
Inside Rajput’s shocking death and what has transpired since
As Rajput’s first death anniversary draws upon us, the idea of closure remains an elusive concept to his family and fans as they struggle to make sense of that irrevocable tragedy. No celebrity death in India has evoked this degree of intrigue or spawned so many multiple conspiracy theories about the price of Bollywood fame or professional despair.
Even though India’s three prime law-enforcement agencies — the Narcotics Central Bureau (NCB), the Economic Directorate (ED) and the Central Bureau Of Investigation (CBI) — are doggedly pursuing this case, examining different kinds of angles ranging from drugs to financial misdemeanours, there seems to be no concrete answers or water-tight conclusions surrounding the actor’s death.
Here’s a cold fact. As early as October 2020, the AIIMS Medical Board had submitted its report to the CBI where it categorically ruled out murder, while stating that the actor died by suicide — he was found hanging in his Mumbai apartment on the morning on June 14. But Rajput’s fans and family are far from appeased.
Rajput’s death also triggered an avalanche of morbid thought processes, like whether nasty and vitriolic colleagues can push an actor to take an extreme step such as ending one’s life or whether drug-addled debauchery can take a toll on a public figure’s physical and mental health.
Here’s what we know so far
Rajput’s girlfriend Rhea Chakraborty and her brother Showik Chakraborty continue to be on CBI’s radar as prime suspects, while gaining notoriety (Rhea’s name has emerged on ‘60 Most Desirable’ list put together by the daily Times Of India), and on the other hand, Rajput’s grieving father is scrambling to put a halt to the making of a Bollywood biopic Nyay, based on his son’s life.
In what would put a Bollywood murder mystery to shame, Rajput’s death seems to have also unearthed the seedy underbelly of the film industry where questions about the toxic work culture and dependence of drugs by iconic stars are being scrutinised. While Rajput’s death unleashed a media frenzy at first, the interest has undoubtedly waned in the last few months. One of the most significant developments in the recent past was the arrest of Rajput’s flat-mate and friend Siddharth Pithani, who found the actor’s body last year.
According to reports, the NCB has filed an extensive 12,000-page charge sheet against 33 people, including actress Rhea Chakraborty, her brother Showik Chakraborty, and others in the Bollywood-drugs mafia probe case linked to Rajput’s death. Pithani is being reportedly questioned on whether he acted as a drug supplier or was a conduit to Rajput’s alleged drug habits.
What’s the way forward?
While the drug and the financial dealings related to Rajput’s death are still under investigation, Bollywood is now constantly being chastised for being hostile towards talents with no industry connections.
The year also saw National Award-winning Indian actress Kangana Ranaut hurling unsubstantiated accusations at movie mogul and producer Karan Johar for deliberately sidelining Rajput and sabotaging his career. The year — since Rajput’s death — also saw movie fans being hyper-vigilant towards outsiders such as Kartik Aaryan who lost out on projects backed by Johar.
Speculations like will Aaryan’s ouster from Johar’s inner circle make him the next Rajput is being constantly floated about. The scrutiny has reached such heights that it prompted acclaimed director Anubhav Sinha to point out that there seems to be an orchestrated smear campaign against an outsider like Aaryan, something that even Rajput had reportedly faced while trying to boost his career in Bollywood.
Since Rajput’s absence, the collective sympathy towards other actor hopefuls who make it big in Bollywood on their own steam is now being revered and looked at as a Herculean task. Established heroes such as Salman Khan and star kids like Alia Bhatt are being called out for their innate privileges and are being blasted for getting it easy in life. There’s no denying that some of actors — who were born to acting dyansties — are bearing the brunt of displaced or misplaced anger.
Following Rajput’s death, the sheen and dazzle of Bollywood also seems to have worn off as it’s now got a rap for being a murky place that runs on unsavoury factors such as rampant drug abuse and isolated existences. As agencies continue to investigate into Rajput’s death, Bollywood — as an industry — seems to be in a dire need for an image make-over where equal opportunities for outsiders and stars with connection and clout can co-exist.
As of today, there’s still no happy ending in sight.
Key players under investigation following Sushant Singh Rajput’s death
She was Sushant Singh Rajput’s girlfriend and was one of the prime suspects. She claimed she had left her boyfriend’s home on June 8, a few days before his death. But Rajput’s father KK Singh filed an abetment to suicide case against her and accused her of misappropriating the actor’s funds and harassing him mentally.
Once the case was transferred to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), Enforcement Directorate (ED) and Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB), Chakraborty was arrested under the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (NDPS) Act for allegedly procuring drugs in 2020. She was released on bail after spending a month in prison.
The actor has maintained distance from social media since Rajput’s demise and only posts occasionally about having mental strength to power through this dark, troubled phase. She was blasted and revered in equal measure. While many have happily demonised her, there’s a section who are reportedly admiring her stoic nature.
He’s Rhea Chakraborty’s brother and was the director in two of the companies founded by Rajput. The actor’s family claims these companies were used to siphon off Rajput’s money. Just like Rhea, Showik was arrested by NCB and spent months in Byculla jail in Mumbai before being released in December 2020.
He was Rajput’s former flatmate and claimed to be his close friend. He was present in the house on June 14 when Rajput was found dead and was arrested in connection with the Narcotics Control Bureau’s (NCB) ongoing probe into the drug angle in the late actor’s death on May 26 this year. He has now applied for bail and the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (NDPS) Act court is likely to hear his bail plea on June 16. His bail application also mentions that Pithani is getting married soon. NCB arrested this Hyderabad native for allegedly procuring drugs and helping Rajput get narcotics. Pithani claims he has been framed and has denied these charges.
According to reports, the two met in 2017 and became thick friends soon after.
In April 2021, NCB named Sahil Shah as one of the prime suspects in the Rajput drug case after the bureau arrested two of his peddlers. In an interview with Times Of India, NCB Zonal Director Sameer Wankhede said: “Sahil remained a puzzle for us for the last six months; we raided his house in Malad on Monday night, where his mother and wife were there. Incidentally, he stays in the same complex where Sushant Singh Rajput used to stay earlier. Sahil used to supply drugs to Karan Arora and Abbas Lakhani both of whom were arrested by the NCB last August.”
He is the father of Rhea Chakraborty. The Enforcement Directorate (ED) had sent summons to him in connection with the probe into missing Rs150 million from Rajput’s account.
Neeraj and Keshav:
They were a part of Sushant Singh’s domestic workers team. The NCB has questioned Rajput’s helps in relation to the drug angle. The two were questioned by NCB, but no arrests were made. His other staff members Samuel Miranda and Deepesh Sawant were also arrested in the drug case last year, but got bail.
Deepika Padukone, Sara Ali Khan, Rakul Preet Singh, and Shraddha Kapoor:
Several Bollywood actors including Padukone, Singh, Khan, and Kapoor were summoned by the NCB for questioning in September. The nexus between the drug mafia and Bollywood is one of the angles being explored as a part of Rajput’s death investigations. They spent hours with the NCB being grilled in relation to this case.
The actor’s Mumbai residence was raided and he was also questioned in relation to the drug angle. What’s the nexus between drugs and Bollywood stars is being constantly pursued.
Bombay High Court quashed the case filed by Rhea Chakraborty against Rajput’s sister Meetu Singh, in which the actress had alleged that the late-actor’s sister procured fake prescriptions to help her brother fight anxiety issues.