Sushant’s death embroiled in a web of theories

Updated on Aug 03, 2020 12:31 AM IST

Almost 50 days later, the police are still investigating what exactly prompted Rajput to commit suicide, which remains a mystery.

Actor Sushant Singh Rajput during an interview in New Delhi on May 25, 2018.(Sarang Gupta/HT archive)
Actor Sushant Singh Rajput during an interview in New Delhi on May 25, 2018.(Sarang Gupta/HT archive)
Hindustan Times | ByMonika Rawal Kukreja and Rishabh Suri

On the morning of Sunday, June 14, Sushant Singh Rajput, a 34-year-old actor with a seemingly promising movie career ahead of him, was found dead at his rented apartment in Mumbai’s Bandra in what the police suspected was a case of suicide. The death triggered dark conspiracy theories of how a powerful cabal of Bollywood producers had tried to sabotage his career, pushing him to kill himself, and set off a raging debate on insiders versus outsiders and the role of nepotism in the Hindi movie business.

Also read: Disha Salian’s mother on Sushant Singh Rajput’s death: ‘How can there be a connection after meeting him just once?’

Almost 50 days later, the police are still investigating what exactly prompted Rajput to commit suicide, which remains a mystery. After all, he seemed to have a lot going for him; his last film, 2019’s Chhichhore, was a box-office winner, earning Rs150 crore, and he had a release coming up in Dil Bechara, which eventually started streaming on July 24 on an over-the-top (OTT) movie platform.

Rajput’s long-time ex-girlfriend Ankita Lokhande, 35, has demanded an in-depth investigation, saying a man with so much joie de vivre couldn’t have sunk into such a deep depression that he would have taken his own life, and offered to be a witness. His last girlfriend, Rhea Chakraborty, 28, said the actor was under severe mental stress and on medication.

Rajput’s father has, meanwhile, filed a first information report (FIR) in Patna against Chakraborty, after which she moved the Supreme Court, pleading that the investigation remain with Mumbai Police. He accused her of, among other things, abetment to suicide.

“I have immense faith in god and the judiciary. I believe that I will get justice. Even though a lot of horrible things are being said about me on the electronic media, I refrain from commenting on the advice of my lawyers as the matter is sub-judice. Satyameva Jayate, the truth shall prevail,” Chakraborty said in a video message on July 31.

The road to stardom

Born in Patna on January 21, 1986 to Krishan Kumar Singh and Usha Singh, Rajput attended St. Karen’s High School in Patna. After his mother’s death in 2002, he was devastated, and the family moved to Delhi the same year. Rajput completed his schooling in New Delhi’s Kulachi Hansraj Model School, and wanted to pursue engineering.

He cleared as many as 11 engineering entrance examinations, and completed three years out of four in the Bachelor of Engineering course at Delhi Technological University before dropping out. Having enrolled in choreographer Shiamak Davar’s dance classes, Rajput was selected in 2005 as one of the background dancers for a popular awards ceremony. The lure of theatre and dance was too powerful to resist.

Also read: Sushant Singh Rajput’s call records, family of ex-manager on Bihar Police’s probe radar

He was noticed by the makers of his first television series, Kis Desh Mein Hai Meraa Dil, at a stage performance, and landed a role. He became popular enough for Ekta Kapoor to choose him for a lead role in the daily soap Pavitra Rishta in 2009. His chemistry with co-star Lokhande was apparent, and the two dated each other until breaking up in 2016.

Bollywood came calling after his small screen appearances. In 2013, Rajput made a successful film debut with Kai Po Che!, which started his Bollywood journey. Shuddh Desi Romance, Detective Byomkesh Bakshy! and MS Dhoni: The Untold Story were his subsequent films. The last named movie was a box office smash, cementing Rajput’s stardom.

After Chhichhore turned out to be a box-office hit, Dil Bechara, a remake of the 2014 Hollywood film The Fault In Our Stars, opened to a record-breaking 95 million views in 24 hours on Disney Hotstar on July 24.

Now with the actor gone, his family has decided to convert his childhood home, which is located in Rajeev Nagar, Patna, into a memorial, said a statement released by the family.

It will house his telescope, guitar, flight simulator and other personal belongings that reflect his eclectic tastes, including an abiding interest in astronomy.

The investigation

Mumbai Police swung into action on June 14 after a domestic help alerted the department about Rajput being found hanging in his room.

“He has committed suicide. Mumbai Police is investigating. The police has not found any (suicide) note yet,” Mumbai Police spokesperson and deputy commissioner of police (DCP) Pranay Ashok said then.

The actor’s maternal uncle, the following day, claimed that there seemed to be a “conspiracy” behind his death, and that “he has been murdered”.

Also read: Ankita Lokhande on why she didn’t go to Sushant Singh Rajput’s funeral: ‘I knew if I see him like that, I will never be able to forget’

Maharashtra home minister Anil Deshmukh tweeted on June 15, “While the post mortem report says actor @itsSSR committed suicide by hanging himself, there are media reports that he allegedly suffered from clinical depression because of professional rivalry. @MumbaiPolice will probe this angle too.”

Mumbai Police sought a copy of the actor’s contract with production house Yash Raj Films (YRF), with which he had signed a three-film deal.

Statements by Rajput’s father and two sisters were recorded on June 16 wherein the father reportedly revealed that his son would often feel “low” but they didn’t know he was depressed.

Mukesh Chhabra, the director of Rajput’s last film Dil Bechara, recorded his statement with the police on June 17.

On June 18, Chakraborty was called for questioning at the Bandra police station. She reportedly revealed that he had been suffering from depression for the past few months, and had stopped taking the medicines for the past few weeks.

The two had been living together during the lockdown, she claimed, and she left his house after a fight.

Rohini Iyer, a friend of Rajput’s and ex-publicist, was next questioned on June 22.

The final post mortem report in the case was received on June 25, which identified the cause of the actor’s death as “asphyxia due to hanging”, stating that it was a “clear case of suicide”.

YRF casting director Shanoo Sharma was questioned on June 27, Rajput’s Dil Bechara co-star Sanjana Sanghi on June 30, filmmaker Sanjay Leela Bhansali on July 6.

Abhishek Trimukhe, DCP (Zone IX), Mumbai police, said Bhansali had planned to cast Rajput in four of his films, but due to non-availability of his dates, other actors had to be cast instead. He added that the police had taken into custody CCTV recordings of the building where the late actor stayed.

Nepotism debate, professional rivalry

In the public domain, and in the police investigation, the focus turned towards alleged nepotism and professional rivalry in the movie world and dragged some big names into the case.

After asking for a copy of Rajput’s contract with YRF, the police called in head honcho of the production house, Aditya Chopra, for questioning on July 18. It was speculated, especially after actor Kangana Ranaut said so in a TV interview, that having signed a three-film deal with YRF, Rajput lost out on some big outside projects because YRF didn’t allow him to do them and instead let actor Ranveer Singh, also a part of the production house’s talent pool, to do them instead. Hindustan Times couldn’t independently verify the claims.

Director Shekhar Kapur’s film Paani, which was to be produced by YRF, was one project which didn’t take off, and speculation has been that it affected the actor’s mental health and pushed him into depression.

According to several media reports, Chopra told the police that the project had to be shelved owing to creative differences between him and Kapur. He also added that no one in YRF stopped Rajput from working outside the banner, and that Goliyon Ki Raasleela Ram-Leela, one of the films that Bhansali said he offered to Rajput, already had Ranveer Singh on board before YRF’s deal with Rajput took place.

Filmmaker Mahesh Bhatt was called in for questioning on July 27. His association with Chakraborty was being seen with suspicion, and it was speculated that he had asked her to leave Rajput. Bhatt’s associate Sucharita Das, in a now deleted Facebook post, had written that Bhatt had told Chakraborty to “walk away or this will take you down under along with him”. In a statement, Bhatt said he met the late actor through her, and never asked her to quit the relationship. He also reportedly said Rajput was never offered a role in his upcoming film Sadak 2.

Filmmaker Karan Johar has also been under the scanner after Rajput’s fans alleged that he sabotaged the actor’s career by casting him in the movie Drive, which was stuck for over two years for a theatrical release and eventually released digitally to bad reviews, and noted that Rajput had been made fun of on his chat show, Koffee With Karan.

Apoorva Mehta, CEO of Johar’s production house Dharma Productions, was next to record his statement with the police. He also submitted to the police a copy of the contract for Drive.

Family complaint

On July 25, Rajput’s father filed an FIR against his girlfriend Chakraborty with Patna police. Sanjay Singh, inspector general of Patna (central zone), told ANI that the FIR was registered under various sections, including abetment to suicide. Sections of the Indian Penal Code including 341 (wrongful restraint), 342 (wrongful confinement), 380 (theft in a dwelling house), 406 (criminal breach of trust), 420 (cheating and dishonestly inducing delivery of property) and 306 (abetment of suicide) were invoked, according to PTI.

“A four-member team has been sent to Mumbai. The team will collect case diary and other important documents from Mumbai Police,” Singh added.

Rajput’s father levelled serious allegations against Chakraborty and her family, including that they kept him away from his family, handled his bank accounts and took away crores of rupees. His FIR mentioned that when she found Rajput’s bank balance was depleting, she left his house on June 8 and took cash, jewellery and his medical reports along with her, and also blocked his mobile number.

Rajput, according to him, had called his sister and told her that Chakraborty had threatened him that she would show the doctors’ receipts to the media and prove he was insane.

On June 8, Rajput’s manager Disha Salian, who had been appointed by Chakraborty, committed suicide. He was, according to the FIR, afraid that Chakraborty would pin the responsibility for the suicide on him after she threatened to frame him in a murder case.

In his complaint, the late actor’s father also sought to invoke the provisions of the Mental Health Care Act, alleging that the “machinations” of Chakraborty and her family members affected Rajput’s mental health, which drove him to suicide despite a successful career. Bihar Police started an investigation on the basis of this FIR.

What took the case to a totally different direction was Rajput’s father claiming that the family had approached the Mumbai police four months before his alleged suicide. Vikas Singh, ex-additional solicitor general and the former’s lawyer, told Times Now channel, “On 25th February, the family had reported to Bandra police saying, ‘he is not in good company and please ensure nothing untoward happens to him’,” adding that the Patna police only filed the FIR after Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar stepped in.

Political turn

After Rajput’s family filed the FIR, the Bihar and Maharashtra governments are tussling over the actor’s death probe. The Bihar government has alleged that Mumbai police is not cooperating. Lalit Kishore, Bihar’s advocate general, said, “When one state’s police goes to another, they get cooperation. It’s unfortunate that Mumbai police is not helping us in the probe.”

Maharashtra’s minister of state for home Satej Patil said: “Mumbai police will probe the case properly and it is going in the right direction.” He ruled out a probe by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI).

Many political leaders have demanded the CBI’s intervention. On June 18, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) MP from Jharkhand, Nishikant Dubey, claimed that Rajput was “pressured” to end his life and blamed his death on a “mafia” and “syndicate” operating in Bollywood. Actor-turned-BJP MP Rupa Ganguly, Rajput’s cousin Neeraj Singh, an MLA in Bihar, Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) president Mayawati, and Union minister Ram Vilas Paswan, too have pressed for a CBI probe.

Alleged financial irregularities pointed out in the FIR filed by Rajput’s father prompted former Maharashtra CM Devendra Fadnavis to urge the Enforcement Directorate (ED) to look into the case. On July 31, he tweeted, “There is a huge public sentiment about handing over #SushantSinghRajput case to CBI but looking at the reluctance of State Government, atleast @dir_ed ED can register an ECIR {Enforcement Case Information Report} since misappropriation and money laundering angle has come out.”

The ED, after studying the FIR filed by Bihar police, registered a money laundering case under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA).

Who is Rhea Chakaborty?

A video jockey and actor, Chakraborty made her Bollywood debut with Mere Dad Ki Maruti in 2013 after hosting TV shows and starring in a Telugu film.

Chakraborty and Rajput started dating around one-and-a-half years ago and had been living in together for a year. The two never made their relationship official although they often posted pictures with each other on social media with romantic captions. After Rajput’s death, many trolled Chakraborty for not posting a single condolence message or grieving her boyfriend’s demise.

It was on July 14, exactly a month after the actor’s death, that she wrote a long post on social media and identified herself as “Sushant Singh Rajput’s girlfriend”. Two days later, she revealed that she was getting rape and death threats and filed a complaint with Cyber Crime department.

“I was called a gold digger, I kept quiet. I was called a murderer, I kept quiet. I was slut shamed, I kept quiet. But how does my silence give you the right to tell me that you will get me RAPED and MURDERED if I don’t commit suicide? Do you realise the seriousness of what you have said....” she wrote with a screenshot of the comment.

The same day, she appealed to Union home minister Amit Shah for a CBI probe into Rajput’s death case, as she wanted to “understand what pressures prompted Sushant to take this step”.

Mental health in the spotlight

Rajput’s sudden death sparked a conversation about mental health, and the kind of difficult life film stars lead.

The police are reported to have found medical prescriptions and medicines for depression in the late actor’s room when they found him hanging. According to an Indian Express report, deputy commissioner of Police Abhishek Trimukhe had said, “We have so far recorded the statement of his sister, two managers, a cook, actor Mahesh Shetty (Rajput’s close friend) and a keymaker who was called to the spot to open his bedroom’s door” on June 14. From their statements, the police learnt that the late actor was depressed.

What added another angle to the case was Kangana Ranaut’s viral Instagram video where she talked about how outsiders— people in the film industry without any family connections in the business — are pressurised by the insiders.

Filmmaker Shekhar Kapur, whose project with Rajput got shelved, wrote in a condolence tweet: “I knew the pain you were going through. I knew the story of the people that let you down so bad that you would weep on my shoulder. I wish I was around the last six months. I wish you had reached out to me. What happened to you was their Karma. Not yours.”

In a new twist to the debate, Mumbai-based psychotherapist Susan Walker, claiming to be Rajput’s therapist, told journalist Barkha Dutt’s multi-media content platform Mojo that the late actor was suffering from severe bipolar disorder and tried to offer a clean chit to Chakraborty, setting off a controversy on whether her revelation had breached patient-therapist confidentiality.

Director Abhishek Kapoor, who directed Rajput’s debut film Kai Po Che and later Kedarnath (2018), said in an interview that it was a case of “systematic dismantling of a fragile mind” by the film industry.

“Sushant was a troubled man who was systematically dismantled by the industry. Sushant was fragile, he had become fragile. He was incredibly intelligent, but he was also a complicated guy. He was an engineer, he was into astrophysics and quantum physics. But because we couldn’t box him into stereotypes we called him ‘off’. He was off, just off your radar. There’s this thing that if you’re not like us then you can’t be with us. There are so many camps that if you’re not part of a camp, even if you’re in the middle of a room, you will be ignored.”

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