Rhea Chakraborty speaks: Sushant Singh Rajput’s death and India’s obsession with the SSR case

Hindustan Times, Delhi | By
Aug 28, 2020 05:27 PM IST

....But behind her answers is a mob frenzy for ‘revenge’. Here are some tentative theories about why India is so fascinated by the case.

I assume that at least some of you watched the interviews Rhea Chakraborty gave to various TV channels on Thursday. I watched Sonia Singh’s excellent interview with Rhea on NDTV first and then Rajdeep Sardesai’s extensive and detailed Hindi-English interview on India Today.

Rhea Chakraborty(Instagram screenshot)
Rhea Chakraborty(Instagram screenshot)

Bear in mind that I watched these interviews from a position of ignorance. I haven’t followed the allegations and accusations hurled by Sushant Singh Rajput’s family against Rhea. Nor have I kept up with the investigations conducted by the sleuths from our TV channels.

So, I have no way of knowing how convincing Rhea’s responses were on the substantive issues or whether what she said was at variance with the facts. But she struck me ---- as I imagine she struck most open-minded people --- as being genuinely shocked at the suggestion that she may have had anything to do with Sushant’s death and shattered by the campaign that has been run against her on both social and mainstream media.

But even as I watched Sonia Singh‘s interview with Rhea, I tried to work out why the case has obsessed so many Indians. So great is the interest that news TV viewership has soared and every channel is trying to find its own ‘exclusive’ or special angle to attract more viewers.

Here are some tentative theories about why India is so fascinated by the case.

Anything to do with Bollywood fascinates people. For most Indians, the only sources of entertainment are Bollywood and “news” channels. Put them together and you have an irresistible mix.

All of us are fed up of the lockdown. The isolation has got to us and though we may be unwilling to say so openly, there are high levels of uncertainty and insecurity about the future. We welcome any distractions and some of us need something to obsess about so that we don’t focus on our own grim reality.

Put sudden death and Bollywood together and you always have the makings of a great TV story.

When the actress Sridevi died in Dubai a few years ago, the country was saddened. But it was also intrigued by the circumstances of her sudden and unexpected death. Then too, the channels suggested that her death had not been an accident and that perhaps there had been foul play.

Bollywood itself has become increasingly isolated from its audience. There was a time when people could identify with the stars and relate to their stories. But these days, too many Bollywood figures are children of the industry. There is nothing for ordinary viewers to identify with.

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There are two other factors, both of which are controversial. In the heyday of Bollywood, even the top stars seemed rooted in the Hindi/Punjabi heartland. Amitabh Bachchan is an extremely sophisticated man who speaks excellent English but he is also proud of his roots as the son of one of India’s greatest Hindi poets. His whole image and the way he is perceived has changed after KBC, where he interacts happily with people from modest backgrounds and small towns.

These days, much of India’s first generation middle class, brought up in non-English-speaking households, sees shows like Koffee with Karan and wonders what it has in common with the sophisticated, English-speaking stars with their designer clothes and in-jokes. The distance between Bollywood and its audience has never been greater.

Those who indicate that they are different and not part of the cool gang, such as Kangana Ranaut, become heroines in the heartland. And those like Amitabh, who have forged a new connect, remain relatable within the heartland.

The second factor is more controversial but, I think, as true. To many bigots (and their number is growing) Bollywood is run by too many Muslims and gay people, Look at the targets of social media campaigns over the last few years and you will see how this element of the anti-Bollywood feeling surfaces again and again in every controversy.

In this environment, Sushant Singh Rajput is seen as a representative of un-cool India, a boy from the heartland who was victimized by the in-club of homosexuals and dynasts who, some believe, run much of Bollywood.

In all the trending narratives about his death, his career is made out to be in much worse shape than it really was. That he earned crores per movie, travelled first class or by private plane etc. is rarely emphasized.

The Sushant who is at the centre of the current narrative was a poor boy from Bihar who was crushed by the Bollywood Mafia.

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The heartland vs. elitist Bollywood storyline suits politicians. There is an election coming up in Bihar. What could be better for the incumbent government than the tale of a bright young Bihari boy who was finished off by the Mumbai mafia? The state government tried to avenge Sushant by sending Bihar’s policemen. And when that did not work, they took the case out of the hands of the Mumbai police and got it transferred to the CBI.

A second motive lies within Maharashtra politics where the BJP and its former ally the Shiv Sena are at war. It suits the BJP to suggest that the Thackerays are in bed with Bollywood and that, even if they were not involved in Sushant’s death, are covering up the truth.

And then, there is Rhea herself. Every successful scandal needs a femme fatale. As most people knew nothing about her till she began giving interviews, Sushant’s family and the media were able to portray her as a scarlet woman who took their son away from them, dominated his life and stole all his money.

If what she says in the interviews is true then it should be quite easy to establish that these charges are not accurate. But till that happens, social media will portray her as a good time girl of doubtful virtue and will look for photos of her in bikinis and other revealing clothes.

The misogyny in all this is self-evident. And yet it surprises me how many women are willing to say the worst possible things about Rhea without any evidence at all.

That, in fact, is the defining characteristic of mob hysteria. People who do not know the individuals involved and have only a rudimentary grasp of the facts, jump to conclusions with a terrifying ferocity and demand ‘revenge’.

They project their own fears, hopes, prejudices and aspirations on to a situation and then work on the basis of that alternate reality.

I have no idea what the truth of this case is. Perhaps Sushant did commit suicide. Perhaps he was murdered. Perhaps powerful people were out to get him.

These are matters that professionals should investigate on the basis of evidence and now that so many agencies are involved I hope we will get to the bottom of this case.

But in times of hysteria, hatred and innuendo on social media, we have already reached rock-bottom for our society.

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