June 15, 2020 UPDATED: June 19, 2020 11:35 IST
In our society, any man who does not weep at his mother’s funeral runs the risk of being sentenced to death. Death. When Albert Camus wrote about his hero, Meursault, the outsider, he wrote these highly paradoxical lines about the guy who does not play by the game. And by definition, therefore, is the stranger. The Outsider. Bollywood has had many of these outsiders. The people who come from small towns with big dreams in their eyes, the people who touch the feet of an elderly fan no matter where they are, the people who draw up a list of dreams and set out to fulfill them.
Sushant Singh Rajput was that outsider to 2010s Bollywood. He was the first breakout superstar of our generation. A man we went to see at the movies, an underdog we loved to see succeed. In most of these movies, he died. With that death, his characters stayed on with us even after we left the theatres. It began with Kai Po Che when Ishaan’s half-smile stayed branded on to our minds for weeks after the end credits rolled. We reconciled with ourselves. He would be in another movie soon. It’s just a character. His fans never quite got over the fact that he died in so many of his movies. And in that screenshot that has now gone viral, he famously told one of them when she refused to see his film if he was dying in it, “Arre but if you don’t watch it then they would throw me out of Bollywood. I have no Godfather, I have made you (all) my Gods and fathers. Watch it at least if you do wish I survive in Bollywood.”
Surviving in Bollywood became his biggest task. An actor who had the only talent to fall back on, much like it happens in Bollywood today and has happened always, was cast aside. In 2016, Sushant had his big moment. It was the year when he would shut all his critics and shoulder a film like MS Dhoni The Untold Story. A film which made him inseparable from his onscreen role. Sushant, the Patna boy, played Dhoni, the Ranchi boy. It was a festival for all those millions of people young and old who rooted for these two outsiders. These two middle-class boys who made it big in life. Sushant’s life from his home in Patna echoed Dhoni’s from the railway quarters in Kharagpur. Sushant gave the biggest hit of his unbearably short career. The film gave this Bollywood outsider a new lease of life. This life, which runs from Friday to Friday at the box office and is ruthless to anyone without a surname or lineage to reckon with.
The film industry is not kind to outsiders. We have seen it multiple times. With Sushant Singh Rajput, our generation also got to see first hand what the ugliness was like. That talent alone wasn’t enough to survive in the big bad place called Bollywood. And the fame, the money that came with Bollywood, Sushant used to fulfill his other dreams. The kind of dreams that actually are dreams for any middle-class small-town boy. But he set out to conquer them.
The square peg in the round, black hole that is Bollywood, Sushant did not quite fit in. Never. He was always the small-town boy who made it big. The TV star who auditioned his way to the big screen, with not one care in the world. It does not work that way. This guy never quite understood that. Bollywood has no place for outsiders. In the past years, it has become even more closed than it was when a Shah Rukh Khan made his way from TV to the screen. We saw Sushant’s rise and fall in front of our own eyes. When you’re in this merciless field called journalism, where we cannot take a moment to absorb the death of a friend because he also happens to be a star and you have stories to write on his life, his career, his dreams, you can’t avoid the dirt. We saw it all with Sushant Singh Rajput.
So yesterday, when the news of his death broke the calmness of a Sunday afternoon, I did not know how to process his death. Can you process a death? We as a society are never taught how to deal with death. Our grief is ours alone. And when all the madness of the first few days is over, what do you go back to? I went back to our conversations on seeing the dance of Aurora Borealis from an island off the coast of Norway and swimming in the crystal-blue waters of the cenotes in Mexico. To the poems, words, stories. To the ‘neurons and narratives’ where he was ‘born, dreamt, and died’.
When you go back to Sushant Singh Rajput, remember him as that outsider. The outsider who never fit in. The outsider who never forgot his roots. The outsider who clung on to his small-town values even while chasing that mirage, that Sonchiriya, that all of us are chasing.