Take a quick look at what has occupied prime time news on TV and the headlines this past fortnight, and one name stands out: Rhea Chakraborty. Ever since late actor Sushant Singh Rajput’s family lodged an FIR against his rumoured partner on 25 July, accusing her of abetting his suicide, Chakraborty’s every move has made headlines.
We know how many times she spoke to Rajput and his personal staff on the phone; we know every emoji she used in her posts about Rajput on Instagram; we have decided we know what her choice of lawyer says about her; we will soon know what she ate for breakfast and, based on our extensive WhatsApp information, will have an analysis ready as to whether that is food an innocent person would eat.
This one woman has, perhaps unwittingly, stripped much of India of its last vestige of common sense as we descend into brainless, misogynistic chatter about kaala jaadu and tez Bengali girls who ruin men. So, for showing up India for what it really is, Rhea Chakraborty is ThePrint’s Newsmaker of the Week.
Everybody is an expert
Less than two months ago, when news broke of Rajput’s death by suicide, Indians overnight turned into mental health experts. A few days later, when people started talking about how he had been a victim of Bollywood’s nepotism and how his career had suffered due to the film industry’s cliquish nature, we became experts on the inner workings of an industry that most of us have no access to. But all of this pales in comparison to what is happening now.
In Rhea Chakraborty, India has found the perfect villain to focus all its energies on, so that real issues of mental health, toxic workplaces and unfair systems can, once again, be ignored until the next incident and the next villain comes along to occupy the nation’s mindspace.
Since the FIR against Chakraborty, it is as if the entire country has collectively turned into a giant investigating agency-cum-court, with, of course, a strong dose of regionalism and sexism thrown in for good measure.
Despite so much going on in the country – a growing Covid crisis, floods in Assam and Bihar and, now, Mumbai, the India-China standoff and the continued incarceration of student activists, to name a few – the national obsession with Rhea Chakraborty has put paid to any real conversation about anything else.
The suicide that has set off a political tug-of-war
Rajput’s father, in his FIR, has accused the actor and VJ of financially cheating his son, mentally harassing him and driving him to suicide. While the case was initially being handled by the Mumbai Police, now it has become a tug-of-war between them and the Patna Police, who pushed for a CBI probe, alleging that Mumbai’s cops were working to shield someone influential. The case has become a political tussle now, with leaders from every political party weighing in on the investigation and even the Centre getting involved, while the Enforcement Directorate (ED) questioned Chakraborty Friday over allegations of money laundering.
After Sushant Singh Rajput died, Chakraborty maintained silence on social media for an entire month, before breaking it not only to express what Sushant meant to her, but also to slam trolls who threatened her with rape, and called her a gold-digger and murderer. She herself then took to social media to request Home Minister Amit Shah for a CBI probe into Rajput’s death, an investigation that her lawyer now says is against the idea of federalism.
Public trial and the problem of 24-hour news
But even before the CBI and ED, plus two police forces working overtime to prove they are working, have finished their job, Rhea has been pronounced guilty, not just by the public, but also by a completely irresponsible media that has not only used deeply tasteless (and senseless) language about clinical depression but also gone hammer and tongs at documenting Chakraborty’s every action.
It just goes to show the problem with 24-hour news, which is that journalists need something to fill up the hours with, and they don’t care even if it means writing crass headlines like ‘The Noose Tightens’ or conducting dummy post-mortems.
And in all the noise about this one high-profile case, we have forgotten not only basic decency but also the fact that there are many people, across professions, who don’t get work at all, leave alone work of their choice, whose careers suffer due to nepotism and cliquishness. And none of them will get the kind of intense public and media scrutiny that Sushant Singh Rajput’s case has got. They won’t get a CBI probe and the police departments of two cities working to ensure they get justice, even if posthumous. They will simply fall by the wayside.
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