Actor Sushant Singh Rajput in a still from Shuddh Desi Romance | YouTube
Text Size:

Beyond the outpouring of grief over Bollywood actor Sushant Singh Rajput’s death, there is searing anger. There is a desire to know why a young, successful star decided to kill himself. And in many a mind, the finger points towards the film industry’s callous ways that led to first, his depression and ultimately, his death.

The old Bollywood nepotism conspiracy theory, too, has reared its head. In this case, though, it is not entirely imagined. Producer-director Karan Johar — someone who had professional ties with Sushant, and had previously borne the brunt of the nepotism charges — has once again become the face of villainy.

Johar’s casting choices have created the impression that he certainly is the most eminent of the upholders of this strange diabolical phenomenon of filmi-nepotism. To some extent that is understandable, given that a big part of Johar’s fame and fortune has emerged from his ability to spin the charmed circle of friends to his advantage. However, it would be unfair to single him out because he is but a mere representative, albeit an important one, of the Hindi film industry.

It has long been an open secret that the film industry establishment prefers to promote its own progeny, and their friends and family. One could rightly argue that it is a free country and a producer or director has every right to choose the talent they would like to work with. However, what one could certainly argue against is creating camps or cartels that do not allow enough fair opportunities for the meritorious.


Also read: Karan Johar, Alia Bhatt lose lakhs of Instagram followers as Sushant fans call out ‘nepotism’


The ‘insider’ story

The present-day Bollywood or the Hindi film industry is still largely controlled by a handful of families that emerged out of three essential sets of people — those who came into the industry from Punjab in the 1940s and 1950s; the actors, directors, and writers who broke in during the 1970s and 1980s; and their progeny thereafter. Understandably then, Bollywood, for the longest time, has remained a mom-and-pop shop, relying heavily on personal friendships. So the roots of these archaic practices of bhai-chara and nepotism and affiliated biases run deep.

When Bollywood acquired ‘industry’ status in May 1998 and the corporate studios got into the act, there was a belief that things would change. Unfortunately, the scenario remains largely unaltered. There continues to be a discrimination between the two types of film aspirants — young actors and directors from the Bandra-Juhu-filmi-kid circuit and those who come to Mumbai from other cities. The difference is that the former will be given numerous chances, while the outsiders have to succeed with their early projects, otherwise even the few doors open to them start slamming hard on their faces.

Most of those bred within the industry are well groomed in the code of excessive deference, of acquiescence, and double-talk, which serves them well until they reach the critical mass of stardom. They are also tutored well on establishing and cementing their position as stars, even before they actually become one. Outsiders are allowed into the hallowed circles only if they achieve the success that directly benefits the trade. Those outsiders who achieve some amount of celebrity status and success are given a little pat on the back but not the real perks such as the fraternity support for their professional endeavours. Indeed, the best opportunities are still reserved for the insiders until they prove to be total duds. Even then, they are still able to leverage the starry aura created around them. While on the other side, outside entrants, when unable to break through the impenetrable walls of the elite club, have fewer plum projects coming their way, and ultimately feel left out and vulnerable.


Also read: No one in Bollywood killed Sushant Singh Rajput. Only the silence did


No fault in the ‘star’

Since the early 2000s, as Hollywood studios began expanding their presence in India, the clout of eminent family-driven production houses has only increased. Even the streaming giants, the new entrants in the entertainment ecosystem, rely heavily on a limited few of the Bollywood Biggies for sourcing a significant chunk of their programming, making these individuals highly powerful in their exalted status as gatekeepers who can nix a project by putting in a bad word against someone while pushing their own favourites. As a result, personal and professional biases from Bollywood have spilled over into this new OTT entertainment industry too.

Unfortunately, in the eyes of the studio heads, there is still nobody bigger than the ‘star’, who is often seen as a failsafe to generate big business revenues. With a star actor, director or producer in the mix, biases or prejudices are never questioned, their recommendations and put-downs diligently pencilled in. This practice adds yet another level of difficulty to the outsider’s obstacle race to achieve stardom and a successful career.

Quite similar to what we have seen with the MeToo Movement, a lot of exploitative and unacceptable practices were ignored or overlooked simply because it was the privilege of the privileged. Until the lid was blown off and the horror stories tumbled out.

Nepotism, it is turning out, is no different. It is no longer just harmless ragging or collegiate groupism. What is particularly alarming is the toxic levels that this ‘othering’ has reached. The fact that this toxicity may have contributed even to a small degree to Sushant Singh Rajput’s death is unsettling and calls for some soul-searching by the industry’s top brass.


Also read: Most suicide helplines are of little help as they don’t work when people need them


The dream of ‘outsiders’

Actress Kangana Ranaut, in an interview with me last year before the release of her film Judgementall Hai Kya, said that all the praise and appreciation, it seems, did not go beyond paying lip service. There was no actual support during the release of a film by way of friendly endorsements. Several young actresses, including Taapsee Pannu, in their interviews with me, have mentioned being signed and then unceremoniously dropped from projects in favour of Bollywood ‘insiders’. And because most of them do not have anyone to advise them on navigating the minefields that the route to fame and fortune is riddled with, it heightens their feeling of vulnerability.

A talented young actor, in all the outbursts that follow film award seasons, once told me, to my shock, that omissions or oversights in even the category they are nominated in — main actor or supporting actor — could literally be a matter of life or death for new young actors trying to make it on their own.

In one of the few interviews that I did with Sushant, he made an interesting point: after fulfilling the first round of ambitions — a house to live in, a fancy car, a certain lifestyle — he wanted to create a new set of ambitions. His point was that after a successful stint in television, he had achieved his materialistic ambitions. He now wanted to do better work, hone himself as an artiste, and strive for recognition for his work beyond just the film industry.

For all the bright-eyed new talent on the firmament, this could be an eye-opener when chasing one’s ambitions. As per Maslow’s theory on the hierarchy of needs, self-actualisation and esteem are the two highest after the physiological requirements are taken care of. And that self-actualisation, if based on the fickle attention of others — be it the validation from the Bollywood ‘blue blood’ club, studios, talent management, media, or acolytes— can be dealt a death blow when the attention shifts to others.

All those who have succeeded and failed and survived to tell their tales, have one thing in common — they keep a small group of trusted family members, or ever-reliable and truly well-meaning people, very close to them. They also explore newer avenues for work. Priyanka Chopra, now a Hollywood celebrity, is a good example. At a time when she was not getting any big-banner films in India, she charted out an international career with the emotional support of her parents, especially her mother Dr Madhu Chopra. Or Kangana Ranaut, who has established channels of work even outside the Hindi film industry.


Also read: 5 performances by which to remember Sushant Singh Rajput — from Kai Po Che! to Chhichhore


For a less-toxic Bollywood

Truth is a strange thing because it can vary depending on the seeker and the purveyor. So it is with Sushant’s untimely and tragic death. There are different truths about what brought matters to a head for him. But, it would not be wrong to say that he was a victim of the culture of high-speed celebrity where the first flush of success must be followed by adding multiple layers to one’s brand  – endorsing products, running a business, owning a sports team, etc.

Unfortunately today, young actors with just a few films under their belts are egged on by their agents and managers to pitch themselves as brands. Newbies want to build themselves into superhuman entities who can wear many hats, almost overnight. But big brands take time and consistency and concentric rounds of success and failure to form. To try and accelerate all of it to gain instant celebrityhood that will also last forever, as promised by talent agents, can be catastrophic. A lot many youngsters begin to chase this ephemeral dream and before they know it, they burn and crash.

When it comes to the issue of mental health, I would prefer to leave the comments to qualified professionals, but suffice it to say that depression and suchlike ailments are linked to the events in one’s life and cannot be viewed in isolation.

Sushant Singh Rajput was a quintessential outsider trying to march to the beat of his own drum. Unfortunately, he encountered myriad complications peculiar to being a film industry outsider, which quite likely exacerbated his depression. Unfortunately, a bright shining talent is gone, already a distant memory in the galaxy. Hopefully, his last act of rebellion will pave the way to opening up the debate for a better, safer and less-toxic Bollywood for many other hopefuls who will arrive, hoping and waiting for a chance to shine.

Priyanka Sinha Jha is a senior editor, author, and media practitioner who comments extensively across Bollywood, celebrities and popular culture. Views are personal.

ThePrint is now on Telegram. For the best reports & opinion on politics, governance and more, subscribe to ThePrint on Telegram.

Subscribe to our YouTube channel.

50 Comments Share Your Views

50 COMMENTS

  1. It is a shame that art is compromised by utilizing nepotism.
    We get to see “Frog in a well” kind of culture in our Hindi movies. They promote meanness, materialistic love, poor language of expression.
    As some says “stagnant water stinks” . for the sake of quality Bollywood need to be inclusive and respect every state and citizen.

  2. Ms Jha,
    Your article is nuanced and well-written. However, you missed an important opportunity to propose the need for systemic policy-driven initiatives to address ,the core issues represented. Yes, a support structure (family, friends), as you indicate, is essential but the impact is somewhat limited. For new-comers in an industry there needs to be an effort to introduce additional regulatory oversight and institutional adoption of a social policy for reform. The film industry should work towards becoming more inclusive for it’s development and existence. Diversity in talent not only makes sound business sense but will help the industry scale new heights.

  3. Well, I must say that this is a well written piece, I thought it would be boring and filled with biased statements. Uhm I don’t watch a lot of Bollywood movies but I have seen a few. I am also aware of the discrimination in Bollywood worsened by the caste system in India. I have seen a lot of people lately mocking Johar. I never knew him until now, a lot of posts from Bollywood fans claim he had something to do with Sushant’s death. This post made me understand better, nepotism is bad, cause it hinders other talents from being seen, promotes poverty and unemployment. I can’t say if nepotism is the direct cause of the suicide; but I can suggest that we avoid having goals or dreams bigger than our very own existence.

  4. Nepotism exists everywhere in the world. Infact i will argue that it is human nature that when you are doing well in life, you automatically want to set your kids up to do equally well or even better. That being said, the nepotism in Bollywood is so glaring that even i as a foreigner have noticed. I am obsessed with bolly movies and everytime i see one i tend to go online and google the actors and actresses, check them out and even start ff them on social network platforms. I have observed the trend way before i knew the meaning of the word nepotism. The daughter/son of an A-listter, throw them in to debut with SRK or any other famous name and voila, they have made it in life. Most of these kids have solid educations and can do well/even have better offers in other industries but they are taking over the industry. They are groomed well for the industry (nutritionists, trainers, dermatologists the best money can buy), they have watched their parents perform for years (they are no longer star struck by seeing movie stars), they have a crazy amount of social network following. Very few will say No to fame and fortune so really, the industry is theirs for the taking.

  5. A very well written piece. Surely the industry could care less about “ an actor’s death” ….. that’s all it is to them because “ the show must go on” 🙄😠. But the audience who care for good talent & crave for good content can never forget this nor forgive them. SSR wherever you are, RIP😢.

  6. Well said.

    Yes we lost such a talented actor in bollywood industry and he’s a great human also .Actually its not a natural death and also not even a suicide i think some peoples murderd sushant singh like stoping his talents and canceling his movie contract signs etc… We all know who did this all and this is not from sushant sign but atleast its have to be ends with sushant.
    They want to stop this kinda shits…

    Still i can’t accept he’s gone..Every night i cried when i thinking about him and watching his Videos,Movies and mainly his Smile and well its not easy to his family and his fans too.

    Actually im from south india (Tamil Nadu) i watched all hindi movies and i loved it too but these kinda activites i hate from bollywood so pls stop that shit (Nepotism) .

    If i say anything wrong sry guys its all my own thoughts comes from my own feelings.

    #loveyouSushantSingh

  7. Yes star kids are made what they become as adults early on . The westernized schools they go to make them who they become. I work in the school system in the west and have seen the teachers ruin lives of students and their families using mind control and discrimination. Some teachers even brag about how they can make the students a doctor, author, their, bully, murderer, gay, queer or lesbian, anyone they want.

  8. India is a corrupt and full of nepotism in all aspects of life.
    Just look at politicians. Only their children can be their predecessors- Maha elections for one example. RG being thrust everyone’s throat even if Sachin Pilot, Milind Deora or Scindia are better than RG anyday. That is the real nepotism India we have now is not a democracy but a country run on money, power and political patronage.

  9. I have no idea why sushant took such drastic
    Actions,But i will surely remember him because he did leave an impact,brilliant actor
    I have never met him,but his demeanor showed the character he had , humble. Kind intelligent most of the movies i watched i chose it because his name was it.You are a legend.I pray you happy and at peace now
    South Africa fans miss and love you

  10. Very well written article. When you decide to join Bollywood film industry, you must make up your mind to be tough and fearlessly face the challenges.

    It’s very sad that a real talent, a vibrant actor and a budding actor has been snatched away from us.

    RIP SSR
    I am sure you are in a better place away from unnecessary stress and tension.

  11. Hi. I’m Just a common person. U Bollywood and Hollywood and tollywood guys need to remember yourll normal human beings. If times are bad believe in ur religion and urll all came from a family who will always love urll and be there. With the words and whatever ur family may say. But they will be there.unfortunate thing is in any trade people do whatever they can to keep their business running.we as individuals must remember God and meditation can help calm our mind and help find other solutions to come out of the problem,even if ,as person we have to take 10steps back or a hundred. The only person that suffers a loss is our parents and siblings and our kids. I’m a mother and i have lost three kids.but im not famous but I’m also human and I and my husband only cry others just sympathizes and move on. Remember one loss does not stop, many possibilities that can come from other avenues. Miss you Sushanth. You are still hot and sexy man, from pavithra rishtha to all Indian South Africans.Salute ur stardom. Mwaah.love for you continues. U where our Prince of Bollywood movie industry and Indian serial industry.

  12. This is a well written, decent and somewhat unbiased piece, points out the exact problems. The solution lies that private houses will be difficult to police, there should be mandates like any other corporate environment to prevent “HOSTILE work environment”. Media also has a big role in spreading toxicity. So please do your part as well. This is a good pice.

  13. Definitely nepotism has to be questioned..one just cannot hide under the argument that it is their money and they can give projects to whoever they be choose because they form a cartel and threaten even well meaning others who want to encourage upcoming talent etc..into meek submission..look at the insider’s agony who are scared to call a spade a spade…this should not be allowed and a thorough investigation should be done and things made a level playing field for all.otherwise we may get to see many more Sushants….

  14. All this talk about boycott this person and boycott that person in Bollywood… is hypocrisy once again. Check again in a few months. The same story will continue of people flocking to theaters to watch the same people’s movies that are being called out in the social media. The reason is, there will be no other movies made other than by these same groups – the same super lobby, the same gang, the same inheritors and gatekeepers of Bollywood. The film studios, the producers, the film financiers all are in the DNA of these gatekeepers, inheritors and Star Kids. Let us not delude ourselves that things will change soon. In a few months’ time, once again, all the boycotters will go back to being supporters. We boycotted the British, but what happened later? Indians were eager and could not wait to migrate to the UK. NRI UK “brides and bridegrooms” ke liye competition lag gaya. People were selling their houses and personal property to get their children “foreign settled” and “foreign educated” or “just to get a chance to go to the UK”. We are power hungry and money hungry, and therefore may never change. The film industry and the choices we make are the same. We have been brainwashed to hero worship and celebrate the rich, powerful and so called “successful” people. And nepotism is ingrained in the very fabric of our daily lives. There could be many of us who got a job by influence or because we were the son or daughter of such-and-such. That time we don’t complain.

  15. Nepotism is the way of the world. It can never be checked. This is a perennial reservation system. Caste system was also instituted to further nepotism for ever.

  16. This Bollywood Filmi Nepotism and family-driven production houses’ toxicity must STOP. Otherwise to stop this monopoly – some alternative film houses should come up. In our country there had been a MRTP act to restrict such unfair practices but such acts prove futile before moneyed filmi houses.
    Personally I feel, Sushant shouldnt have done like this. he was smart, ready witted, charmed, intelligent, genius with multi directional nature of life, suave, full of dreams for the next generation. Definitely a loss to the country.
    Emotionally I am tempted to say – perhaps from his loving mother – ‘Beta aa ja mere paas.. nikal jaa woh bollywood ka daldal mara narak ke jindagi.. wapas aa ja mere god mein’. And beta followed – caring two hoots for that wretched Bollywood.

  17. Bollywood cannot and will not be any different from the rest of the society: look around in business and politics. Unfortunately, we cannot reserve roles in 50:50 ratio for insiders and outsiders. Neither can we conduct a competitive examination for allotting roles. Nor will the industry be so transparent as to float advertisements for different roles. Therefore, I am not hopeful for a ‘safer and less toxic Bollywood’. The ‘nexus people’ will now try to remain more careful to be identified or caught. The roles will continue to be given on a combination of talent and nepotism and their current proportionate share is unlikely to change. All outside newcomers must keep a healthy work-life balance, as you have rightly pointed out. Every aspirant has to fight it – and then live or die, alone in Mumbai.

  18. The moot point is why stars remain glued to Mumbai. There was a time when it was thought that Mumbai infrastructure is a must to make a movie. Not anymore. Technology has made it possible to make a movie even in a village.
    It is the marketing infrastructure that gives Mumbai an edge. Leaders and artists of Eastern zone must come together to develop a strong network to develop the entertainment business.

  19. The whole issue is misplaced and judgemental। Are we sure that he committed suicide due to nepotism। Despite nepotism, he was fairly successful and we’ll placed। He was being paid a good amount of 8 cr per film। He was strong-willed person who could leave the prestigious engineering college in final year of engineering।
    There are reports of his breakups and his feel that post Ankita, he was loveless। Why it can’t be reason of suicide?
    Secondly, there is no point in talking nepotism in film industry। It is in indian blood। From politics to judiciary/legal, business, profession and everywhere else। Why to sermon film industry alone।

    • My thoughts similarly. Sushant was talented, intelligent, handsome, financially strong, respected and knowledgeable/experienced in other fields besides film industry such as engineering, flying, sports, dancing, etc., then why this solely dramatized Bollywood nepotism being played out that perhaps allegedly led to his suicide, beats me. He could have just as well shifted or side-stepped his attention towards his other fields of talent in similar fashion as several others of his calibre and backgrounds have painstakingly yet successfully pursued and still continuing in film industry. Perhaps his death may not be suicidal due to either nepotism or personal love affair but rather a planned homicide, who knows. May he rest in peace.

    • Danish KhanMy thoughts similarly. Sushant was talented, intelligent, handsome, financially strong, respected and knowledgeable/experienced in other fields besides film industry such as engineering, flying, sports, dancing, etc., then why this solely dramatized Bollywood nepotism being played out that perhaps allegedly led to his suicide, beats me. He could have just as well shifted or side-stepped his attention towards his other fields of talent in similar fashion as several others of his calibre and backgrounds have painstakingly yet successfully pursued and still continuing in film industry. Perhaps his death may not be suicidal due to either nepotism or personal love affair but rather a planned homicide, who knows. May he rest in peace.

  20. There is this incessant , relentless scrutiny over a mundane routine event of an individual unable to deal with life. While what happened was indeed tragic ,it was very much less so than what happens everyday to many individuals in this vast country of ours. What conclusion can one draw , the monied & successful are different from ordinary people in life as well as death.

  21. “a big part of Johar’s fame and fortune has emerged from his ability to spin the charmed circle of friends to his advantage.”

    I’m no fan of the man, but what have you been smoking?

    Ever heard of the box office?
    You can’t spin the receipts, I’m afraid.

    You could be a despicable clown, but if you make a film that people flock to watch you will be rich.

    Nepotism can admittedly give you a big advantage, but it won’t magically give you blockbusters success.

    Ask tushar kapoor, Arman kohli, kishan Kumar, salman’s brother in low, harshvardhan kapur, boney ka launda, Bobby deol, or any other has been.

    And stop smoking boot polish

  22. Nepotism is ingrained in Indian society. Blaming Bollywood is like the pot calling the kettle black. It is a tragic reality of our society, and not one to be proud of. Are we ready to fight it ourselves first?

  23. The charge of “nepotism” is not valid in the first place. It’s not a government body and is not obligated to give a chance to all aspirants. It’s at liberty to take or reject any. That way, you have to keep changing your house maid every 6 months so as to give a fair chance to others.

  24. feeling vulnerable ……….. i have felt it, i have gone through it, yes, a person can kill themselves upon facing them , i know it because i have experienced it….. people very easily ascribe it to karma, no its not, its few people who manipulate your environment for their betterment made you to take such actions…..

  25. The name of a superstar that has been doing the rounds for targeting Sushant Singh and who is known to be earlier responsible for impacting careers of others, is curiously missing from the article. The article remains incomplete without covering this aspect.

  26. This discussion on nepotism in bollywood is simply ridiculous. They dont function on public money. It is their money and their choice of script and casting. If movie is good, appreciate it. If bad, let it flop. They have their own learning curve. On their casting, they are not answerable to any. There is nepotism in corporate businnesses. They are listed companies ( run on public shareholders) and answerable. Do you question them?

  27. You are asking for the impossible. Nepotism is an all india phenomena. It will not go away from any industry, till such time, we as a society value family tree over merit. The best example is the continued presence of Shri Rahul Gandhi as the darling of the media, the darling of fairly large number of us…Shows us where our feelings lie….So first look into ourselves….

  28. I think bollywood is similar to many industries, Politics (Prasanth Kishore helping leaders win elections), Same like branding for a new start up company. There is cut throat competition everywhere. If one has to succeed they need Talent, hard work, patience, mental and physical health and lots of luck (specially to have rich and understanding parents).

  29. Priyanka Sinha Jha- I agree with your views. How ever you seem to forget the main thing that might increase depression and cause suicidal tendencies in celebrities these days. No one knows exactly why Sushanth decided to end his life. is it right to speculate and spread false news on social media. The amount of hate and negativity that stars encounter (both outsiders and Star kids) is disgusting. May be you have never personally experienced yourself to understand the seriousness of this situation. I doubt even this might have contributed to Sushant’s actions.

  30. Boycott movies of starkids if you think they donot have talent.Boycott movies of actors you thing are not good human beings

  31. Reel Life or Real Life or vice versa, this fear of the ‘biggies’ or ‘underworld’ – ‘bhooths’ eating you up , must stop. Time to call out the names of people who control not just Bollywood but other state clones, call them, sandalwood/kollywood or whatever. Not just, the film industry, we see this ‘fear psychosis’ in the Legal/Medical and many other professions too. I am given to understand we have the “mafia” in Legal and Medical garb. and not one person is willing to “open-the-can-of-worms”. We must have serious investigative journalism that exposes the dark underbelly of all professions. The movie SPOTLIGHT:
    The true story of how the Boston Globe uncovered the massive scandal of child molestation and cover-up within the local Catholic Archdiocese, shaking the entire Catholic Church to its core, is what we need to “unclog” Bollywood.

  32. A very well written that clearly articulates the challenges faced by even a fairly successful actor like SSR. Perhaps it’s easy for an outsider – an aam aadmi, like me, to say that SSR had it all and that too as a fruit for his own hard work. However, the point in the article, which says that even after achieving materialistic gain if SSR felt that he can’t pick and chose on the sort of work he can engage in, that speaks volumes of the rat race he was part of.

    Perhaps it’s easier said than done and wishful thinking that Bollywood will change after this episode as the cynical side of the industry doesn’t still have a good enough incentive to even think about changing – as the legendary Raj Kapoor would say in MNJ, the show much go one and its all about money and fame.

    RIP Sushant! The world lost a deserving person like you and i feel sorry that your sacrifice isn’t good enuf to change the underlying problem with Bollywood.

  33. A good piece.

    What is striking is that for a star kid, stardom manufacturing starts early on in the mainstream and social media even before the child could get to speak well. Millions are spent on projecting and positioning them, as to the parties they went, the clothes they wear and on and on. Barely past the teen age and the finished product is ready for launch. Most of these kids are school drop outs, programmed to perform before the public, and are an utter bunch of numpties.

    But then that is ‘OUR’ bollywood!

  34. These so called godfather’s of Bollywood r rapists, pathogens nd revenge seekers of actors who don’t bend to their wishes. They should b jailed for life for ruining others lives. Seriously ! Everyone has a right to earn a living in this country.

  35. This is age old. It is the stuff that human history is made of. Parents practice it. My HOD a respected learned man at the Doctoral interview asked me for my name after two years of teaching and being a reasonable performer to warrant a call up for an interview. Yes I understand the pain having faced it several times over. But to the Sushant’s therefore I will say NEVER GIVE UP.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here