‘He was trying to make it on his own in a world structured around nepotism and cronyism’

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Written by Alaka Sahani | Mumbai | Published: June 15, 2020 1:37:57 am

Outside Sushant Singh Rajput’s home in Mumbai on Sunday. (Photo by Nirmal Harindran)

Blurred past evaporating from teardrops
Unending dreams carving an
arc of smile
And a fleeting life negotiating
between the two

This was actor Sushant Singh Rajput’s last Instagram post, uploaded on June 3 along with a sepia-toned collage of his late mother and him.

Unlike other celebrities, the posts of the 34-year-old actor are a blend of “self-musings” and “meditations”. There are several posts about the galaxy, planets, moon, dark matter and even of him peering into his telescope pointed at the dark sky.

Well-read and with a scientific bent of mind, he had plans to visit NASA as part of training for the role of an astronaut in a now-shelved project. At the age of 18, he quit engineering to become a dancer and soon turned his focus to acting. After acting in plays and doing a side role in a serial, the 1986-born actor saw mass popularity as Manav in a telly soap, Pavitra Rishta. His breakout role, however, was that of Ishaan in Kai Po Che (2013). Deepa Bhatia, who edited Kai Po Che!, says: “As an editor, when you see the rushes you can notice the aura that some actors have. Sushant had that endearing quality. You could see his commitment the way his body language was. I remember discussing with Gattu (director Abhishek Kapoor) that one could notice his hunger to do better. We knew someone talented is entering the movies.”

Rajput followed up the success of his big-screen debut with the small-town boy Raghu of Shudh Desi Romance before slipping into the role of the fictional Bengali detective Byomkesh Bakshy (2015). Another high point for him was playing the eponymous role in the commercially successful biopic MS Dhoni: The Untold Story (2016). Dibakar Banerjee, who found Rajput to be “vulnerable and intense”, cast him in the titular role in Detective Byomkesh Bakshy! (2015). Banerjee admired the fact that Rajput was “trying to make it on his own in a world structured around nepotism, cronyism and camps”. The writer-director says: “This is what led me to cast Sushant as a vulnerable, inexperienced and intense Byomkesh out on his first case where everyone else dismissed him as a rookie.”

Banerjee, however, wasn’t in touch with him for the last year-and-a-half. “That’s something I will now regret for the rest of my life. It’s a body blow. He shouldn’t have gone. He should have been alive. I can’t process it still,” he says.

Speaking to The Indian Express, Nitesh Tiwari, who directed Rajput in his last outing Chhichhore (2019), said: “I’m too shocked and numbed to say anything. I saw the news on TV and then reached out to a few people.” In Chhichhore, the actor plays a middle-aged father who makes desperate efforts to save his teenage son, who attempts suicide after failing to get admission in IIT. Tiwari said, “Sushant was like a young brother to me. We exchanged a few messages a week ago, and I got no such hint that he was not feeling well. I had no idea about his battle with depression. Had I known I would have been the first person to reach out to him.” Rajput, who hailed from Bihar, is one of the few actors who made it big in the movies after starting their career in television shows. He was the runner-up of the dance reality show, Jhalak Dikhla Jaa 4 (2010-11). One of the judges of the show, Remo D’Souza, remembers him as a “jovial, energetic and talented dancer”. D’Souza says, “At that time, we knew he was aspiring for big screen success and we were confident that he would do well. He went on to achieve that.”

The choreographer-director last met Rajput when he had come to D’Souza’s show Dance Plus to promote Chhichhore. “Everything might look perfect but celebrities too have a lot of pressure to deal with.”

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