Among the many questions and debates that rose from the death of Sushant Singh Rajput on June 14, 2020, the inside vs outsider debate in Bollywood was most widely discussed. Talk of nepotism and criticism around it had never been so open until then. Bias and favouritism had always existed in the industry, but Sushant’s death triggered an ‘enough is enough’ sentiment that engulfed the country. Social media was ablaze with heated debates about the actor not being treated right or given his due.
Though nepotism exists in every field, it became glaring in Hindi cinema post SSR’s death. The rage hasn’t died down even after a year. A quick look at top tweets on SSR on any given day will tell you that dedicated fans are unwilling to let the crusade lose steam. Referring to June 14 as ‘anti-nepotism day’, fans of the actor are still calling for a fair treatment for all in Bollywood.
Accusations against Bollywood of discrimination based on background continue to flare up every now and then. When Kartik Aaryan’s exit from Dharma Productions’ Dostana 2 was announced, many called it a result of a similar ‘conspiracy’ that was supposedly afoot against Sushant.
During its investigation into the death of Sushant, who went from being the ‘outsider’ from Patna to the star of films such as MS Dhoni: The Untold Story and Chhichhore, Mumbai Police had questioned several big names, including producers Aditya Chopra and Karan Johar. While the entire industry condoled its death, the nepotism debate created rifts and ripples like never before. As the veneer was removed to reveal the inner workings of the industry, Bollywood became a divided house.
The simmering insider-outsider debate had flared up between the members of the industry. Kangana Ranaut slammed the so-called ‘movie mafia’ and also dragged other outsiders like Taapsee Pannu and Swara Bhasker into her tirades. She labeled Sushant’s death as “murder" and accused Bollywood biggies conspiring against the actor. Scriptwriter Apurva Asrani and actress Simi Garewal praised Kangana for boldly speaking out against nepotistic culture.
Manoj Bajpayee, Sushant’s co-actor in Sonchiriya, in an Instagram live conversation last year with filmmaker Shekhar Kapur, had tried to rationalize the angst. “People had seen a hero in Sushant, (someone) who rose from amidst them and the passing away of that representation has somewhere left those people angry,” he had said. He had also pointed out that “the industry not being fair is just the way the world isn’t”.
Actors like Aahana Kumra and Amol Parashar had confessed that the death had left their families concerned about their mental health and resilience as they continue to pursue this uncertain profession in a ruthless industry. Some actors acknowledged that being born into the industry gives the privilege to start without losing precious years in making connections. Sonu Sood said that star kids will always have easier access than those who don’t belong to the film industry, adding that he feels proud when an outsider comes to the city and makes it big.
The debate also led to several filmmakers slamming the term ‘Bollywood’. “ENOUGH!!! I hereby resign from Bollywood. Whatever the f*** that means," director Anubhav Sinha’s tweet found support from the likes of Hansal Mehta and Sudhir Mishra. Filmmaker Anurag Kashyap also joined in, saying no one had worked with outsiders as much as he did and was speaking up as he did not want people to change the narrative of the industry.
While Bollywood fans continue to stan starkids, whose social media popularity soars even before their film debut, demands for a fair chance for everyone continues to increase, too. Bollywood is not one person, so it is hard to say how long it will take to affect a change. But hopefully, the outrage triggered by Sushant’s death will sustain, leading to more deserving candidates getting opportunities in the industry.