A few days ago, no one would have thought that Sushant Singh Rajput, one of the most promising young actors in Hindi films would end his life in what seems to be a suicide.
Poised to be a star who was cut from the same fabric as a Shah Rukh Khan, thanks to a similar television-to-films journey that he shared with SRK, SSR, as Rajput was fondly called, had everything that was desired in a Hindi film star, but in the end, it all seemed to amount to precious little.
The year was 2015 and Shekhar Kapur decided to revive his magnum opus Paani that he had been intending to make for a decade. He had managed to get Yash Raj Films to produce his futuristic thriller that explored the scarcity of water in Mumbai and had the likes of John Travolta, Emma Watson, and Hrithik Roshan attached to the film at some point in time.
Kapur had zeroed in on Sushant Singh Rajput to play the lead and the then up and coming young star who displayed great potential set aside bulk dates to work with the auteur.
Two years later, the film got shelved. Rajput lost on some interesting offers — 12 according to some reports — while he was committed to Paani, but he never complained.
During the time he was associated with Paani, he went from being that newcomer with potential to being a star who delivered a surprise Rs 100-crore blockbuster to a troubled actor who was throwing tantrums.
Born in a typical Indian family, Rajput was good at studies and the fact that he stood seventh in the entrance exam for Delhi School of Engineering in the early 2000s is testimony enough.
His mother’s death in 2002 changed something within Rajput and he was never the same. He mentioned this in an interview he gave when he turned 30, a point where he felt that he was done with half of his lifetime.
One can gauge how ‘brave’ Rajput was from the fact that he chucked it all - the future to be an engineer — and joined Shaimak Davar’s classes. He became so good at dancing that he travelled with Davar’s troupe to Australia to perform at the 2006 Commonwealth Games’ opening ceremony and he also performed at the Filmfare awards.
He got his first break in front of the camera in Balaji Telefilm’s Kis Desh Mein Hai Meraa Dil (2008) and became such a popular character that he was brought back to life after his onscreen death, which, in other words, is the biggest yardstick to measure television stardom.
He got the nuances of a middle-class Indian man in Pavitra Rishta bang on, and soon it was time for films. He auditioned and landed as one of the three leads in Abhishek Kapoor’s Kai Po Che! (2013) that was based on Chetan Bhagat’s 3 Mistakes of My Life.
He went on to feature in Shuddh Desi Romance (2013) that explored the concept of love and premarital sex in small-town India.
The reason why Rajput could connect well with the average young Indian was simply that he had lived that life. He never forgot to add a tinge of intrigue along with the familiarity while portraying everyday characters.
He got this same vulnerability when he played two well known characters on screen that also went on to become two of his best performances. Rajput was cast as the fictional sleuth in Detective Byomkesh Bakshi (2015) and ace cricketer M.S. Dhoni in M.S. Dhoni - The Untold Story (2016). If the former was a beloved literary creation ever since he made his first appearance in the early 1930s, the latter was a living legend in his own lifetime. In both cases, Rajput managed to create memorable screen moments.
Despite delivering a blockbuster, M.S. Dhoni, Rajput’s career began to slip into the lower depths that is usually not associated with a star poised to become an icon. There were rumours of Rajput becoming difficult to work with because of his penchant for perfection and his demand for the best in the scripts.
He picked up films that took forever to develop and finally got shelved. One of the reasons why films such as Chanda Mama Door Ke, a space adventure, RAW, a spy thriller that finally got made with John Abraham and Drive (2019) that got released on Netflix instead of the theatres was probably the failure of Rajput’s solo films.
He featured in Rabta (2017) that came after M.S. Dhoni- The Untold Story but flopped resoundingly at the Box Office and since then things weren’t rosy.
Kedarnath (2018) was in the news more for its controversial story-line and pitched as the debut of Sara Ali Khan, the daughter of Amrita Singh and Saif Ali Khan, and the dacoit-drama Sonchiriya (2019) featured in many year’s top films lists but underperformed commercially and with this, the going became tougher for Rajput.
Last year, Rajput delivered one of the year’s biggest blockbusters in the form of Chhichore that made over Rs 200 crore. But a month after that his film Drive that was produced by Karan Johar was released on Netflix because rumour had it that Johar wasn’t too happy with the way the film had shaped up.
The failure of solo-lead films, which is the yardstick to gauge the success of any Bollywood star, along with the rumours of him being prone to tantrums, might have added to Rajput’s sinking spirits. A few days ago, his former business manager too jumped off a building.
In a season of hopelessness brought upon by the coronavirus pandemic, the death of a young actor, 34, is the latest blow.
Some claim that Rajput had been depressed for a while but no one knows what he was going through. One can only hope and pray, that Rajput would find his peace.