The untimely suicide of Bollywood actor Sushant Singh Rajput has left Indians, as well as the entire film fraternity, shaken. The 34-year-old Kai Po Che actor was found dead in his Bandra home in Mumbai on June 14. No suicide note was found.
While the suspected suicide caused a much-needed debate regarding India’s mental health awareness and preparedness, many seem to fall back to a familiar recourse when faced with uncomfortable questions - the blame game. And this time, several Bollywood celebrities such as Karan Johar, Alia Bhatt, and others are facing the brunt.
After the actor’s demise, Johar took to Instagram and wrote that he “blamed" himself for not being in touch with Rajput for the past year.
“I have felt at times like you may have needed people to share your life with…but somehow I never followed up on that feeling…will never make that mistake again…we live in very energetic and noisy but still very isolated times …some of us succumb to these silences and go within…we need to not just make relationships but also constantly nurture them," Johar wrote. He added that Rajput’s suicide was a “wake-up call" for him.
Alia Bhatt also posted her condolences, stating that the news came as a shock to her.
The posts were instantly riddled with hate messages against Johar and Bhatt with many blaming nepotism for Rajput’s death. Others even dredged up old clips of Koffee with Karan episode featuring Alia Bhatt, Varun Dhawan and Sidharth Malhotra following their debut film ‘Student of the Year where Bhatt and Johar seemingly mock Rajput for being a newbie and a “serial actor" (Rajput acted in TV serials before his first film in Bollywood).
Both Johar and Bhatt lost lakhs of followers from both Twitter and Instagram after the posts with many people calling out the hypocrisy of the Bollywood.
Suicides are Triggering
While suicides can be triggering for many, celebrity suicides are laced with the additional baggage of public discussion and scrutiny. And that’s exactly what happened after Rajput’s suicide.
Why did a young, successful celebrity end his life? Was he depressed? Was it because he was an outsider to the industry and had no Godfathers in Bollywood? Following Rajput’s death, both social and legacy media was flooded with such questions.
The questions, however, soon turned to accusations following Johar and Alia’s posts. Many including actors from the film fraternity slammed celebrities for posting condolences now despite never extending a helping hand to Rajput during troubled times. Several news outlets republished old reports about fall-out between Rajput and Yash Raj Films after he was promised a film which was never made. Even the flag-bearer of the nepotism debate in Bollywood, Kangana Ranaut, took to social media to blame nepotism against outsiders as the primary cause for the tragic event.
Fans and sundry netizens on social media, shaken by the unexpected demise of the young actor, lapped up the narratives and soon, vile and disturbing comments began to appear on the vilified celebrities’ social media feeds.
What many failed to understand was that bullying is not the answer to either nepotism or to suicide.
Outrage vs Bullying
While it is absolutely necessary to debate and discuss mental health in cut-throat industries like Bollywood, bullying, and shaming other celebrities is hardly progressive or fruitful. Tragic as it is, Rajput’s suicide only highlights the stress faced by those in Bollywood. But issues such as nepotism, insider-outsider biases, sexism, discrimination are also part of every other industry.
By blaming and shaming Johar or other so-called “nepotists" like Bhatt, Ranveer Singh, Varun Dhawan among others, many on so social media seemed to lose the real focus of the discourse which should be on improving mental health awareness, preparedness and infrastructure to help people cope with stress in all environments.
Toxicity cannot be reduced with further toxicity and cyberbullying is not the best practice when the end-goal is improving mental health.
Additionally, by blaming celebrities as easy targets, many seem to be shirking their own guilt. After all, how many times do most people reach out to their friends, colleagues and acquaintances (hell, even their families) to ask about their mental health? This is a country where getting therapy and having mental health issues is still looked down upon. This is a country where many think doing Yoga and going out with friends to eat ice cream is a cure for depression. This is a country where mental health is not part of most health insurance plans offered by organisations.
Meanwhile, a case has been filed in a Bihar court by advocate Sudhir Kumar Ojha against Johar, Bhatt, Sanjay Leela Bhansali and others with relation to the suicide.
I have filed a case against 8 people including Karan Johar, Sanjay Leela Bhansali, Salman Khan & Ekta Kapoor under Sections 306, 109, 504 & 506 of IPC in connection with actor Sushant Singh Rajput’s suicide case in a court in Muzaffarpur, Bihar: Advocate Sudhir Kumar Ojha pic.twitter.com/9jNdqvXVKr— ANI (@ANI) June 17, 2020
Investigating the cause of Rajput’s suicide is the duty of police and investigators as well as mental health experts. Not social media warriors with little to no understanding of mental health.
Scapegoating a certain few to ease the pain of losing a bright and talented man in his prime may well appear to be the easy way out. What is tougher is to take accountability for own actions and not using someone’s death to fuel further hate and stress.
Note: This news piece may be triggering. If you or someone you know needs help, call any of these helplines: Aasra (Mumbai) 022-27546669, Sneha (Chennai) 044-24640050, Sumaitri (Delhi) 011-23389090, Cooj (Goa) 0832- 2252525, Jeevan (Jamshedpur) 065-76453841, Pratheeksha (Kochi) 048-42448830, Maithri (Kochi) 0484-2540530, Roshni (Hyderabad) 040-66202000, Lifeline 033-64643267 (Kolkata).
(This story was first published on June 17, 2020)