By Sreedhar Pillai
On March 13, Tamil television actor Sai Prashanth committed suicide; police said it was by consuming poison. He was 30. A suicide note was found, in which Prashanth said no one was responsible for his death, and that he was forced to take the step as he could no longer cope with the day-to-day pressure of his work.
Rather than an isolated incident, Prashanth’s death is indicative of a larger problem facing young actors in Kollywood: Depression, and frustration.
Prashanth’s seems to be yet another case of a budding actor being unable to cope with the pressures and rigours of the film industry. Like many actors in recent times, Prashanth too started off his career as an anchor for a popular music channel on television. Then he got a break as a supporting actor in Tamil television serials — a booming industry — and also got a few walk-on roles in a dozen films including hits like Neram, Thegidi, Vadacurry etc.
The actor is survived by his second wife Sujitha and an eight-year old daughter Rakshita, from his first marriage with Niranjana. Prashanth had tied the knot with Sujitha just three months ago.
In his suicide note, Prashanth said that he had tried to be a good father; he also said that his biggest problem was “himself”. He thanked his colleague Radhika Sarathkumar — actress and TV show producer — for her support.
When the reports of his death emerged, Radhika had tweeted: “So shocked and saddened to hear of actor Sai Prashanth’s death. What is it about life that you give up at this age? Sad. Just finished work, but mind is disturbed.”
What was it that made Prashanth feel he couldn’t cope anymore? Kollywood has several examples of actors who ended their lives, including glamour queen Silk Smitha, award winning actress Shobha, Monal, Jiah Khan, Murali Mohan and Uday Kiran among others. And there are rumours that Kalabhavan Mani’s death was also a case of suicide as traces of a poisonous substance were found in his body during the post-mortem procedure.
Character actor and president of the Tamil actors’ association (Nadigar Sangam) Nasser said that suicides among actors in the industry was a concern. “We have lost a lot of talent in recent times. Nadigar Sangam is planning to set up a hotline and counselling centre for actors, where they can confide (in experts) about their problems.”
In Kollywood — as with film and entertainment industries elsewhere — the pressure to succeed is intense. Out of the 100 actors who make their debuts, one or perhaps two, make it big. The rest fade away. Many young actors who knock on Kollywood’s doors cannot take failure — or the intense pressure of being part of a successful film or TV show.
After the success of television anchors like Sivakarthikeyan, who became a sought after hero, many other anchors and TV actors believe that they too can be successful in movies. And when their dreams are not fulfilled they become depressed, and develop suicidal tendencies.
The lure of anchoring television shows or acting in serials and subsequently doing small roles in Tamil films is the driving force for a lot of youngsters in Tamil Nadu. If you are even a small time actor in Tamil cinema, you can build a fan base and get recognition. For some actors, it is a way to support their families; however there is no guarantee of work, as often, newer actors replace them. At the end of the day, it is a high-pressure industry where survival is only for the fittest.