Sushant Singh Rajput passes away: An 'outsider twice over' who found a unique place for himself in Bollywood
In recent years, Rajput did smaller, much more thoughtful films like Sonchiriya (2018) and to a lesser extent, Chhichhore (2019).
The Bollywood actor Sushant Singh Rajput passed away on Sunday. The 34-year-old Rajput, star of films like Kai Po Che (2013), Shuddh Desi Romance (2013), MS Dhoni: The Untold Story (2016) and Sonchiriya (2016), was found dead in his Mumbai apartment — an apparent suicide, but as of now, the police hasn’t confirmed a cause of death. On 8 June, Rajput’s ex-manager Disha Salian had also died after falling from a Malad high-rise; the police are currently investigating the case and no cause of death has been confirmed there either.
Like several of his colleagues in recent years, Rajput had spoken about navigating depression. In an interview with Hindustan Times in September last year, he had said: “Who says actors are maintaining their mental health? That’s a wrong belief. The most important thing that an actor could do to protect himself from all these things (pressures, demands, paparazzi culture, etc.) is just to know why a person is doing what he is doing. No matter what you do, and what you like, be it money, fame or competition — just make sure you know your reasons.”
The Patna-born Rajput moved to Delhi to pursue an engineering degree at the Delhi Technological University (DTU; formerly known as DCE — Delhi College of Engineering). Soon, he made his first forays into show business after joining the choreographer Shiamak Davar’s troupe, performing as a backup dancer at the 2005 Filmfare Awards as well as in the Yash Raj movie Bunty Aur Babli (2005). Eventually, Rajput dropped out of college and moved to Mumbai to pursue a full-time acting career.
Between 2009 and 2011, Rajput was a well-known face on Indian television screens, playing Manav Deshmukh, the working-class protagonist of the hit Ekta Kapoor soap Pavitra Rishta. This would prove to be a breakthrough role, leading to Rajput being offered his first movie role — Kai Po Che (2013). Based on a Chetan Bhagat novel, Kai Po Che was well-received by critics and more importantly for Rajput’s career, was a roaring success at the box office, earning 92 crores on a 25-crore budget. Soon, Rajput signed a multi-movie contract with Yash Raj Films, one of the most powerful production houses in Bollywood. A supporting role in the Aamir Khan blockbuster PK followed. Things seemed to be looking up for the young actor.
However, after the lukewarm box-office returns on Shudh Desi Romance (2013) and Detective Byomkesh Bakshy! (2015), Rajput’s contract with Yash Raj Films was cancelled. According to industry insiders and media reports, this was partially because of Yash Raj offering their most lucrative projects to Ranveer Singh, quite clearly the Chosen One (between 2013 and 2016, Singh appeared in four YRF productions). In Kai Po Che, Rajput’s character Omi laments the petty politics that eats away at the good things Indian society has to offer (in Omi’s case, internecine politics nipped his cricketing career in the bud), dividing its people into ‘insiders’ and ‘outsiders’. The sequence of events at YRF seemed to echo this bleak prognosis and besides, as a TV actor who did not belong to a Bollywood family, Rajput was an outsider twice over.
Disappointed but undeterred, the young actor threw himself into preparing for his biggest role yet — playing the iconic Indian cricketer Mahendra Singh Dhoni, captain of the 2011 World Cup-winning Indian men’s cricket team. 2016 saw the release of MS Dhoni: The Untold Story, produced by Fox and made on a hefty budget of a 100 crores.
It was Rajput’s biggest gamble yet — as was the case for most of his career, the results were decidedly mixed. It was a hit but not a blockbuster; for a 100-crore movie, a lifetime collection of 200-odd crores meant that it only finished at no. 5 on 2016’s Bollywood box office roster. Not bad at all, but hardly the career-defining success that Bollywood actors look for when they do big, ambitious biopics produced by international studios. Most critics also criticised the hagiographic nature of the script, although just about everyone agreed that Rajput had turned in a marvelous performance.
This writer, a cricket fan brought up in MS Dhoni’s native Ranchi, can attest to the fact that Rajput captured the former Indian captain’s body language, mannerisms and demeanor with a degree of accuracy and detail that’s unusual in Bollywood, to say the least. The coup de grace was Rajput’s bewildering mastery of Dhoni’s signature ‘helicopter shot’, a wristy, bottom-handed, bio-mechanically improbable shovel-smash that Dhoni regularly employed in the late 2000s. A montage of Rajput playing this shot almost casually during practice makes for compelling viewing — mainstream Bollywood actors were seldom this beholden to their craft.
In recent years, Rajput did smaller, much more thoughtful films like Sonchiriya (2018) and to a lesser extent, Chhichhore (2019). In the former, an ambitious cops-and-dacoits drama set in Madhya Pradesh’s Chambal region in 1975, Rajput played Lakhna, an introspective young dacoit who wants to surrender to the police. Surrounded by actors like Ashutosh Rana and Manoj Bajpayee, Rajput more than held his own, indicating that moving forward, Rajput may portray even more complex and challenging characters (as opposed to glitzy but brainless fare like 2019’s Drive, his last-ever film).
Unfortunately, his untimely death has put paid to those hopes. Having already claimed Irrfan Khan and Rishi Kapoor, 2020 has now extinguished one of Bollywood’s most promising young talents.
A collection of Suicide prevention helpline numbers are available here. Please reach out if you or anyone you know is in need of support. The All-India helpline number is: 022 2754 6669