After his breakthrough role in television soap Pavitra Rishta, Sushant Singh Rajput’s Bollywood journey got off to a great start with Kai Po Che! (2013). The film, based on Chetan Bhagat's novel The 3 Mistakes of My Life, revolved around the 2001 Gujarat earthquake and Godhra train burning. Sushant played an ex-district level cricketer who is a victim of politics in the cricketing selection fraternity, and won the Best Male Debut Filmfare award for his performance.
Kai Po Che was sort of a phenomenon, and everyone looked forward to more powerful performances from Sushant from this point onwards. With his second film, Shuddh Desi Romance (2013), the actor proved that he was not just another Bollywood hero. With this non-formulaic and non-conforming rom-com, Sushant proved he was willing to take risks, and make a distinct space for himself.
He continued off the beaten track to star in Dibakar Banerjee’s Detective Byomkesh Bakshy! (2015), slipping into the legendary Bengali sleuth’s role with ease. After a modern-day romance, Sushant fully immersed himself into the 1940s' hairstyle, body language and accent.
Sushant’s most successful film came in 2016, when he brought to life cricketer MS Dhoni's career in the biopic MS Dhoni: The Untold Story. Directed by Neeraj Pandey, the sports feature sealed Sushant’s spot in Bollywood as a mainstream star. He was the director’s first choice given how both Dhoni and Sushant hailed from the same part of India, which also made it easier for him to get the cricketer's dialect right. A self-confessed Dhoni fan, Sushant watched hours of footage to get his mannerisms right, and trained extensively in cricket for the role. The efforts paid off at the box office.
After MS Dhoni biopic, Sushant was back in the good books of critics and audiences with Kedarnath, Sonchiriya and Chhichhore. All three had different narratives and Sushant's sincere performance lent credibility to them.
Kedarnath was an inter-faith love story between a Hindu Brahmin girl whose family owns a lodge and runs a shop near the Kedarnath Temple in Uttarakhand mountains. Sushant played a humble Muslim boy who is a 'pithoo' (porter). It served as Sara Ali Khan’s debut vehicle, and reunited Sushant with his Kai Po Che director Abhishek Kapoor. The actor was praised for his nuanced performance, being the solid support a newcomer needed in a co-star for her first film.
In 2019, he headlined the multi-starrer Sonchiriya, directed by Abhishek Chaubey. Set in ravines of the Chambal valley against the backdrop of the Emergency, it tells the tale of dacoits. The film's entire cast, including Sushant, was praised for their top notch performances.
After earning acclaim for Sonchiriya, he went on to impress audiences in the a more mainstream film-- Chhichhore, a comedy-drama which was lauded for its portrayal of hostel life in Indian colleges. Sushant once again proved his mettle, easily going back and forth in time to play the love-struck college student as well as a middle aged man worried for his hospitalised son.
With Sonchiriya and Chhichhore, 2019 turned out to be a good year for Sushant on the big screen. His next Drive went straight to digital. Multiple factors decide the fate of a film, and he did face many disappointments in his career. But Sushant continued to make brave choices and deliver with sincerity as an actor. He showed potential for greatness, and his audience will remember him for that.