For 90 days, the death of a young Bollywood star pierced India.
The story that began in June when actor Sushant Singh Rajput was found dead in his apartment in Mumbai started out as one of heartache and tragedy. The police ruled that he had committed suicide.
Yet the spectacle he has since transformed into – involving misogyny, drugs, money, media witch hunts, feuds, police leaks, federal inquiries, national elections and the arrest of ‘a Bollywood star – has become an unprecedented national obsession, with everything from politicians to Amnesty International.
To outsiders, Rajput seemed to have everything to live for. Born into a poor family in the underprivileged state of Bihar, he had climbed the Bollywood ranks for seven years and starred in six blockbuster films, including MS Dhoni: The Untold Story, in which he played the legendary cricketer, and its most recent box. -office success, the Chhichhore comedy.
But behind the scenes, his mental health had started to deteriorate, according to a close family friend of his girlfriend, Rhea Chakraborty. During a trip to Europe with Chakraborty last fall, he began to suffer from manic episodes and fell into a deep depression, leading them to return to India early.
The couple withdrew from the public eye over fears that if Rajput’s mental illness became widely known it would end his career. In January, Chakraborty told the friend, who does not want to be named, that he had been diagnosed with a range of diagnoses, from manic depression to schizophrenia to bipolar disorder.
“Rhea did all she could humanely for Sushant, and every time he had a good day she would call me, so excited and determined that she could help him beat that,” said the friend. “He moved into his family home and they looked after him like he was their own child. He didn’t feel his own family really understood his mental illness.
On June 14, Rajput, 34, was found dead.
Police were initially convinced that there were no suspicious circumstances surrounding his death. However, interest was renewed in the event that actor Kangana Ranaut, known for his pro-government leanings, took to social media to blame nepotism and some Bollywood elites for leading him to his death. dead. She alleged that they ostracized Rajput, attempted to sabotage his career and prevented his films from being released because he did not come from the “pure” Bollywood lineage.
The anti-elitist narrative struck a chord and a social media campaign calling for “justice for Sushant” began to develop, with politicians from the ruling Bharatiya Janata (BJP) party looming large. A lawsuit was then brought against eight Bollywood stars, accusing them of a nepotism conspiracy that forced Rajput to commit suicide, which amounted to murder. All vigorously denied the accusation.
The media, already in a frenzy over the Bollywood mud, were further fueled when 10 days later Rajput’s father filed a lawsuit against Chakraborty and three members of his family. The complaint accused him of encouraging suicide, stealing millions of his money, as well as denying that Rajput suffered from depression.
In interviews, Chakraborty dismissed the claims as “baseless” and “pathetic,” but as demand increased to place the blame on Rajput’s death, an apparent witch hunt also followed suit. As public pressure mounted, in mid-August the Supreme Court intervened and ordered the Central Investigation Bureau to open an investigation into his death, defying legal precedent.
On right-wing government-sympathetic television stations, the affair has become an obsession that has wiped out coronavirus infections in India, China’s border assaults and the worst quarterly economic recession since records began.
Journalists camped outside the homes of Chakraborty and her family, confronting her as she left her home. Online she has been bombarded with accusations of “manipulative”, “gold digger” who made Rajput addicted to drugs and “sex bait” who “did black magic” to lead him to his death. dead.
“The campaign to bring down Rhea and blame her for Sushant’s death in the name of justice has been a surreal, shocking and hysterical witch hunt, driven by misogyny, the force of public voyeurism, and TV audience points.” , said actor Swara Bhaskar. “She had already been found guilty in a media lawsuit, so it feels like the agencies must have found some reason to arrest her.”
Rajput’s therapist even made the unusual decision to speak publicly about him, explaining that he suffered from bipolar disorder and depression, and that Chakraborty had been a crucial source of support for him.
Critics say the escalation of Rajput’s case, particularly the Supreme Court’s decision to approve a federal investigation into her death, appears to have been driven by the realization that she could be used as lucrative political capital. .
Rajput is from Bihar, a BJP state which will hold hotly contested elections next month, and “justice” for his death is being used as an emotional electoral issue by the BJP. In Bihar, the party is distributing 30,000 stickers and posters and 30,000 masks with Rajput’s face printed on it, with the slogan: “We neither forgot nor let us forget Sushant”, alongside the BJP logo.
Anna MM Vetticad, journalist and author, noted the irony of BJP positioning itself as a champion of justice for Rajput.
“The BJP and its supporters had viciously attacked the actor’s films during his lifetime for promoting Hindu-Muslim friendship and presenting Hindu-Muslim novels, at one point turning their anger against Sushant himself. even when he publicly condemned the extremism of the powerful Rajput community to which he belongs, ”Vetticad said. “Amid the uproar surrounding Sushant’s death, political opportunists sought to erase this awkward aspect of her legacy while appropriating it for their own ends.
Allegations that Chakraborty encouraged Rajput’s suicide and stole his money are unfounded, but last Sunday she was summoned to the Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) over new allegations that she had bought cannabis for Rajput , based on WhatsApp messages. On Tuesday, during her third visit for questioning, she was arrested. The NCB asked the court to place Chakraborty in judicial detention without bail, describing her as part of an “active drugs union”.
As she walked into the BCN office to be placed under arrest, the message on Chakraborty’s T-shirt sent a clear message: “Roses are red, violets are blue, crush the patriarchy, me. and you.”
Supreme Court lawyer Karuna Nundy criticized the Chakraborty investigation as a “fishing expedition”, and said her subsequent arrest was “mainly to satisfy a fabricated thirst for blood before Bihar’s elections”.
“This is a fascist cocktail of media, politics and abuse of the legal apparatus,” Nundy said. “It’s a wag-the-dog show-making style to look away from the economy, which has shrunk by 24% in the last quarter, and Covid mismanagement. Both would otherwise be disastrous for the ruling party. “