Dibakar Banerjee on Sushant Singh Rajput: ‘It takes double the hard work for an outsider than entitled establishment elites’
Filmmaker Dibakar Banerjee remembers Sushant Singh Rajput as a dance loving ‘chhokra’ from an engineering college who, having made it in Bollywood, was “enthused, sincere and totally focused” on his craft.
Banerjeee said the actor always had “a book or two” with him and took pride in the fact that he had an “inner intellectual life away from the shallower aspects of showbiz”. Rajput was found dead in his Bandra apartment on Sunday at the age of 34, leaving his friends, colleagues and collaborators in a state of shock.
The Patna-born actor and the director worked together in 2015 film Detective Byomkesh Bakshy! when Rajput was a relative newcomer in the industry. Banerjee says it was Rajput’s vulnerability and willingness to do different that made him stand out for the role.
In an interview with PTI, the filmmaker looks back at Rajput’s sincerity, his love for science and astronomy and how an outsider has to work harder than a “mediocre, unmotivated and entitled establishment elite” to succeed in Bollywood.
Q) You worked with Sushant when he was less than two-year-old in the film industry. What struck you the most in him to cast as Detective Byomkesh Bakshy?
Banerjee: His vulnerability and intensity and the ambition to do different things than the usual Bollywood stuff.
Q) What were your memories of Sushant - the actor and the person?
Banerjee: As an actor he would tense himself up for the scene and then completely plunge in take after take. He would put a lot of value on preparation. He would be up the previous night of the shoot, reading the scene and making notes and land up on the sets all raring to go. He would be on, ready and give his hundred per cent throughout the shoot of Byomkesh - no matter how hard or long the day. The unit did not really have to worry about him - considering he was the star.
That’s what I remember - a total pro, enthused, sincere and totally focused. As a person, he seemed to me a happy dance loving ‘chhokra’ from an engineering college who had made it in showbiz and now was serious about acting. He was deeply nostalgic about his carefree student days in Delhi. We used to laugh a lot - I remember that quite clearly.
Q) Sushant’s friends say that he spoke more about books and his love for astronomy than films and their fate, which is rare for an actor in the industry. Do you also remember him that way?
Banerjee: Totally true. He was a science and astronomy nut. Always had a book or two with him - and was proud of the fact that he had an inner intellectual life away from the shallower aspects of showbiz. I recognized it as a reflex, protective action to prevent the Bollywood swamp sucking him in totally. And also an identity he wanted to protect and project.
Q) Sushant’s death has brought to the fore the struggles of outsiders and the alienation they often face from the nepotistic culture of the industry. Did you feel that Sushant was also fighting this battle despite being a successful actor?
Banerjee: We all fight it, day in and out - whether successful or failing. But the trick is to define that success and failure ourselves and not let the narrative constantly forced by the establishment to get to you. Those who know this weather the storm and ultimately survive and thrive.
The biggest unfairness in all this is that it takes double the talent, energy and hard work for an outsider to convince the audience and the industry that he or she is as safe a box office bet as a mediocre, unmotivated and entitled establishment elite. The media colludes in this by wallowing in family, coterie and celebrity worship. This leads to deep anger and frustration. Those who can let this slide survive. Those who can’t - those who hurt a little more or are vulnerable and impressionable - they are at risk.
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