Sushant Singh Rajput passes away: Tracing the actor's journey from television to movie stardom
Sushant Singh Rajput’s death at 34, an age group where most actors destined for greatness tend to enter the best phase of their careers, has expectedly left a deep vacuum
The news of Sushant Singh Rajput’s death by what seems to be a suicide is the latest blow in an atmosphere of gloom that has come to be seen as a kind of new normal. One of the more popular young male film stars, Rajput was counted amongst the most gifted in his generation and one who had all the making of being the next-generation superstar.
Endowed with a combination of good looks, talent, fine understanding of the medium, enough histrionics, and last but far from least, luck, Rajput was equally at ease when it came to playing the guy next door in films such as Kai Po Che! (2013) and Shuddh Desi Romance (2013), a fictional hero who captured the imagination of generations of Indians in Detective Byomkesh Bakshi (2015) or a living legend in M.S. Dhoni - The Untold Story (2016).
Rajput’s death at 34, an age group where most actors destined for greatness tend to enter the best phase of their careers, has expectedly left a deep vacuum, but more than anything else, it has also come as an emotional shock that would take a long time to heal.
Right from the time when Rajput became a recognisable face on television after he played the character of Preet Juneja in the popular show Kis Desh Mein Hai Meraa Dil, it was apparent that he was destined for something bigger.
A few years ago, when Shah Rukh Khan burst upon the scene in the television series Fauji, each generation of actors that followed was looked at with great expectations by the Bombay film industry. The successful template invited aspirants that could complete a similar journey from the small screen to the silver screen.
One of the reasons why the pundits, as well as fans, felt that ‘SSR’, as Rajput was fondly called, could become a matinee idol probably had to do with his transformation from television to films mirroring the journey of ‘SRK.’ Rajput went on to feature in yet another immensely popular seers, Pavitra Rishta and after that, there was no looking back.
The success that Rajput enjoyed in television opened up the gates to films. Coupled with his training with Shaimak Davar’s dance troupe, Rajput had performed with the group at the opening ceremony of the 2006 Commonwealth Games in Australia, and his background in theatre in both Delhi and Mumbai, he had checked all the necessary boxes.
Rajput made his debut in Abhishek Kapoor’s Kai Po Che! along with Rajkumar Rao and Amit Sadh and the same year he also featured in Maneesh Sharma’s Shuddh Desi Romance. The two films displayed Rajput’s ability to operate on the spectrum of roles that popular Hindi films would offer in terms of range. He also held his own in Rajkumar Hirani’s P.K. (2014), a tent-pole production that gave him previous little to do but told the industry that he could handle it all.
Rajput more than cemented his place in the grander scheme of things with his couple of films. Playing the titular Byomkesh Bakshi, one of the most beloved literary characters in the world wasn’t an easy task. For one, it was a film directed by Dibakar Banerjee, and keeping the filmmaker’s aura in mind, it would always be a film where the leading man wouldn’t be allowed to dominate the narrative in the typical sense of the word. Moreover, the memory of Rajit Kapur playing Byomkesh Bakshi in the Basu Chatterjee-directed Doordarshan series was still fresh in the minds of people. While the film did not perform as well at the box office, even the critics were divided, Rajput is perhaps the brightest spark in Detective Byomkesh Bakshi. He immersed himself in the character, and even with the nuances or highly stylised acting, at places, it’s still a pleasure to watch him interpret a character that first made an appearance in the early 1930s.
The failure of Detective Byomkesh Bakshi had the potential to cast a shadow on Rajput’s ability to deliver a ‘solo’ hit — the one factor that continues to differentiate between a star and everyone else in Hindi films. But M.S. Dhoni - The Untold Story laid all doubts to rest. Rajput perfectly played MS Dhoni in the film that traced the ace cricketer’s life and journey to such an extent that at times it’s Rajput’s image that still pops up in one’s mind when the name ‘Dhoni’ is heard.
The film was a critical and commercial success and many A-list names made a beeline for Rajput. He picked up films that were not run of the mill and while some such as Shekhar Kapur’s Paani, a film for which Rajput blocked considerable time and refused other films, made news, most of them did not take off. There was another film called Chanda Mama Door Ke, which was touted as India’s first space adventure film, that promised a lot but didn’t materialise. He was initially supposed to do RAW but once the teasers posters were out, there was news that it was shelved.
More than films that got shelved, it was the response that the ones which got released generated that did more harm. A solo hero film, Raabta (2017) ended up as a wash-out, Kedarnath (2018) made more news for being the film that would launch Sara Alia Khan and the controversy regarding its storyline than money at the box office and although Sonchiriya (2019) was counted amongst the year’s best but remained under-whelming in terms of the box office. But it wasn’t just the failure of projects that harmed Rajput. News about him being difficult to work with and someone prone to throwing tantrums started making the rounds.
There might be some issues that ailed Rajput and the world would have had no idea about his hidden sorrows but the rumour mill had more or less made its presence felt. Despite being in the A-list category, Rajput had ceased to attract good material once the ‘troubled’ tag got attached. One of last year’s biggest box hits, Chhichore (2019) featured Sushant Singh Rajput but even with that kind of success appeared to do little to change things. A month after delivering Chhichore, a blockbuster in every sense of the word that made over Rs 200 crores, Rajput’s last film, Drive (2019) was directly released on Netflix on 1 November 2019. Directed by Tarun Mansukhani and produced by Karan Johar’s Dharma Productions, Drive was rumoured to meet the latter’s disapproval and that is why it was reportedly dumped on Netflix instead of a theatre.
In a short period of time and a handful of television shows and films, Sushant Singh Rajput endeared himself to millions. The mix of familiarity and intrigue with which he portrayed characters on screen made him connect better with the young as he came across as someone who made most of the opportunities that life gave him and at the same time chose to chart his own course. Even after scoring a top rank in a coveted college’s entrance exam, he ranked seventh in the 2003 Delhi College of Engineering exam, he pursued his love for acting and dance.
Five days before Sushant Singh Rajput’s death, his former manager Disha Salian committed suicide for reasons that are still under investigation. Sadly, Rajput might have been putting up an actor’s performing face for a long time as there are few who believe that Rajput displayed signs of being depressed. A few days ago, no one would have thought that life would take such a course. In an interview that appeared when he turned 30, Rajput spoke of the trials he faced along the path and mentioned how his mother’s death in 2002 made him realise the impermanency of everything.
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
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