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How the death of a star reveals the collective psyche of South Asians

SAM SPECIAL-ENG-25-08-2020

The suicide of a film star in India has caused a stir all over South Asia. Sushant Singh Rajput was a mid-level aspirant for stardom in Bollywood. But in his death he has become one of the biggest names in the media. Every aspect of his life is being scrutinized and examined and judgments passed. 

It seems that his death has taken the lid off the collective imagination of the masses on how stars live their lives and how people react to them. It also shows that the star’s life is filled with venality, greed, enmity, fueling even murder. It's a very unseemly world, hardly one worth emulating. The world of any elite is similar. 

In away, people are responding to a world they are not part of. Yet why this near hysteria? After all, SSR was not a superstar! So why did his death make such a difference? What was he and who has he become?

Bollywood is about packaging dreams and selling the idea that the tinsel world is real. It's necessary to believe that it is real and not fake. That is one of the reasons why it does so well. The Indian film industry is huge perhaps bigger in terms of public interaction than any other sector. It provides relief, aspirations and even realization of aspirations. If there is any doubt it is brushed away. And that is how it stays. 

Sushant Singh Rajput's death threatens that. If Bollywood is not the fantasy world that South Asia needs, what is real then? It is a deep collective malady that affects everyone who is part of the world which they don't control.

Does Bollywood mirror other elite worlds?

It is fascinating how similar the world of entertainment and power is. There are several factors that stand out. Both the worlds are ruthless and center around personal gain. In the case of movies, it is money and in the case of politics it is power, both for their own sake. But even in the entertainment world power is what brings money. So power is the key factor. 

All kinds of people play the game and almost all play dirty. So the victim is just about everyone. However, a powerful guy today may collapse tomorrow. As for fringe players like Rajput, nothing is safe. They can crash and disappear any day.

What also transpired was how infectious greed for money is. It is far more infectious than the corona virus. It seems everyone who came in touch with him or was part of his life had something fishy going. It doesn't spare his family, his lovers, colleagues and just about everybody. Perhaps the only apt description is: "vulture's den". 

It's even more appropriate because, though dead, the squabbling, hating, harassing and hiding goes on. People are accusing each other, spilling secrets and facts, abusing, and, of course, taking advantage of the situation to gain or settle old scores. The story is a developing one and there is a long way to go. 

The reaction of the public to the episode is very significant. Not only has it dispelled all other topics in the Indian media, even Covid has to compete with Rajput to get coverage. Public's interest in what is the greatest health challenge in the century is only as high as the suicide of a half- a- star. What therefore is fuelling such attention?

No place to hide 

One of course is the fact that the high quality sleaze and trash that is coming out is always interesting. There is no shortage of these now. More importantly, there are no secrets left to hide. Whether the media or the police, all are trying to uncover them and much has been found. It fascinates the public that so much can be known if the will and intent is there. Having lived in a world of secrets of important people where everything was a secret, the public are enjoying the taste of facts which can't be hidden. It is the real world, a world they will never get to know and see. Today there is no one to protect them. They have no place to hide. 

And that is precisely the message of the Rajput episode. Every person of power and money is hiding filthy secrets. In the case of the ruling class such secrets are never revealed as so many forces operate to keep them secret. In this case it was the opposite. So people are knowing more and more. 

To know more is aright that is denied in South Asian politics. But the Rajput suicide shows how deep that desire is. Just as Bollywood is fictional, one hopes people don't start thinking that national politics is also the same.