Sushant Singh Rajput (1986-2020): A winner, a loser, and an enigma in life

Gone at just 34, Sushant Singh Rajput leaves behind unanswered queries, an incomplete legacy, and a glorious life that could have been

By Mayur Lookhar

Sushant Singh Rajput (1986-2020)

“Men have emotions too so don’t be shy to cry.  It’s okay to let it out and not hold it inside. It’s not a weakness but a sign of strength. Be man enough to feel. Feeling is human,” Sushant Singh Rajput posted a Tweet on 19 November, 2019.

The actor was promoting a new TVC from the popular men’s grooming brand that he endorsed. The TV commercial was inspiring, but sadly, the man who urged all despondent souls to open up, himself (perhaps) wasn’t man enough to share his despair. Sushant Singh Rajput (34) committed suicide in his Bandra, (Mumbai) residence on 14 June, leaving his millions of fans, family shell shocked.

Ironically, his last theatrical release Chhichhore [2019] was all about a bunch of losers teaching us the true value of life.  His last release was the Netflix dud Drive [2019]. Questions galore, what drove the man to end his life? The theorists, philosophers will throw up their tales of despair.  Honestly, all this is just an afterthought now. 

What alarmed us today is that the actor’s last Tweet was on 27 December. His last Instagram post was filled with nostalgia, as the actor posted his late mother’s photo who died in 2002. 

Inevitably, the suicide will throw up countless questions, but before that we reflect upon a promising career that was cut short.  A career that seemed to be on the rise, but now it is all about what it could have been.

Born on 21 January, 1986 in Patna, Bihar in a humble household, Sushant Singh Rajput was the only son and the youngest among five siblings. His sister Mitu is said to be a state-level cricketer. His father K.K. Singh is a retired government officer. Rajput was good in academics. He had studied mechanical engineering from Delhi School of Engineering.  He was also a National Olympiad winner in Physics.  He is said to have cleared as many as 11 engineering entrance exams, including that for the Indian School of Mines. However, the passion for dance, arts took over and Rajput quit academics.  He learnt dance from Shiamak Davar’s dance school and was part of the noted  choreographer’s dance troupe.  He didn’t really harbour acting dreams then but later he followed some of his fellow dancers in enrolling into Barry John’s drama classes.  To further hone his skills, Rajput would then join Nadira Babar’s Ekjute theatre group. 

The casting team at Balaji Telefilms were impressed by his work on the stage. Rajput made his television debut with Balaji Telefilms’ romantic drama Kis Desh Mein Hai Meraa Dil [2008-2010]. He played stepbrother to the lead actor Harshad Chopda. 

Pavitra Rishta [2009-2014]

Rajput found his big career break playing the lead in Balaji Telefilms’ Pavitra Rishta [2009-2014].  The show was a huge hit bringing him into limelight.  Manav [Rajput] and Archana [Ankita Lokhande] became the most loved pair on and perhaps off the screen too.  The show’s huge popularity made it hard for Bollywood producers/ filmmakers to ignore his talent.

Director Abhishek Kapoor gave Rajput his first break with the critical and commercial success Kai Po Che! [2013], an adaptation of Chetan Bhagat’s 3 Mistakes of My Life [2008].  The buddy drama film had Rajput playing a former district level cricketer who trains a budding talent from the minority community. That year, he also starred in Yash Raj Films’ new-age romance drama Shudh Desi Romance.  A year later, he played Anushka Sharma’s Pakistani boyfriend in the Aamir Khan-starrer PK [2014]. 

Rajput showed promise but it wasn’t until Dibakar Banerjee’s Detective Byomkesh Bakshy that Rajput seemed comfortable on the screen.  The film evoked mixed responses, a commercial failure, but one felt if given the right script, this boy could do something special. The poise, calmness, intelligence that he showed as Bakshy mirrored Rajput’s own personality.

But with Detective Byomkesh Bakshy tanking, there was fear that here was another TV star failing in Bollywood.  It came as a surprise when director Neeraj Pandey picked him for the Mahendra Singh Dhoni biopic – MS: Dhoni: The Untold Story [2016]. 

If rumours are to be believed, this was a story that super star Akshay Kumar was keen on doing, but Pandey needed a younger actor.  As a cricket connoisseur and a MS Dhoni fan, yours truly, too, was sceptical about Rajput playing Dhoni.  Once the film released, Rajput proved all of us wrong chipping in with a measured and arguably his short career/life’s best performance. From body language to mannerism, Rajput looked the part. But it was his calm demeanour that made him apt to play Captain Cool – as Dhoni is called in cricket. 

As it often happens in life, a career high is followed by a failure.  Producer Dinesh Vijan’s directorial debut Raabta [2017] turned out to be a turkey.  There was no dearth of films though for Rajput. He had signed for Robbey Grewal’s spy thriller Romeo Akbar Walter [2019], Sanjay Puran Singh Chauhan’s Chanda Mama Door Ke.  Abundantia Entertainment’s Rifleman was announced in 2019 but that failed to get going. Plus, the actor was to play 12 towering real-life characters in a digital series – among those characters were Rabindranath Tagore, APJ Abdul Kalam.  Date issues saw him opt out of Romeo Akbar Walter. Sadly, both Chanda Mama Door Ke and the digital series never saw light of the day. Then there was Shekhar Kapur’s Paani, where initial work began but then financial woes put cold waters on Paani.

His film Kedarnath got mired into many legal issues before it finally released in 2018.  The Abhishek Kapoor film marked the debut of Sara Ali Khan. While the latter was the toast of the film, but Rajput earned praise for his sincere show. Set in the backdrop of the 2013 Kedarnath floods, the inter-faith love story was appreciated by both the audiences and critics alike.

Chhichhore [2019]

Rajput then played a dacoit seeking salvation in Abhishek Chaubey’s much acclaimed period film Sonchiriya (2019).  Rajput enjoyed his career’s biggest success with Dangal [2016] director Nitesh Tiwari’s inspiring slice-of-life drama Chhichhore [2019].  The Nitesh Tiwari film taught us the true worth of life, i.e. life itself. Success or failure is immaterial but one ought to celebrate life each day. Anirudh Pathak’s [Rajput] son Raghav [Mohammad Samad] attempted suicide. Pathak saved his son by reminding him that he and his mates from college were losers, too, but life was not always about winning.

While the dud Drive [2019] was his last release, but it is the inspiring tale of losers from Chhichhore [2019] that will now define his career legacy. His next and perhaps the final release will be casting director Mukesh Chhabra’s Dil Bechara [2020] that is based on John Green’s novel The Fault In Our Stars [2012].  Those familiar with the book know of its tragic story line.  Sadly, Rajput won’t be around to view the emotional, tragic story.

What legacy will one look for in a career with just over a dozen of films.  The nature of his death is such that Rajput’s life beyond the glitz and glamour of showbiz has now come into focus. He is rumoured to have shared a tumultuous relationship with his Pavitra Rishta co-star Ankita Lokhande.  Thereafter he was linked with his Raabta [2017] co-star Kriti Sanon.  Lately, he was romantically linked with a struggling actress, a Bengali woman.  As per the grapevine, he was keen to settle down in life, but the actress wasn’t keen.   

And then there have always been tales of temper and tantrums, which honestly have followed him from the time he had made his mind to quit Pavitra Ristha. A particular journalist, notorious for sensational stories, often churned up tales of Rajput’s alleged tantrums.  The worst of the lot was about his former co-actor and rumoured girl friend Ankita Lokhande being an alcoholic and constantly fighting with him.  A dubious Twitter handle, that thrives on giving inside scoop, claimed [without naming Rajput] that the actor had no film in his kitty, and his temper, tantrums had seen people leave his company.  There is even talk of Rajput annoying producers with his haughty demands and batting for his girl friend’s inclusion in the film. 

Source: Sushant Singh Rajput Instagram

Given how he was usually very cordial with the media, such gossip stories were always taken with a pinch of salt.  Rajput came across as a calm, intelligent, philosophical man.  While Paani got spilled, but Rajput shared a cordial relationship with forlorn filmmaker Shekhar Kapur.  The Raabta [2017] actor’s  ‘selfmusing’ posts were a hit with like-minded fans, people.  During the promotion of Raabta, this writer had asked Rajput whether these ‘selfmusings’ were a result of his camaraderie with Kapur?

“Probably yes. We were preparing for this film, which unfortunately didn’t get made (Paani). Before I met him, I was quite rigid in my point of views. I was very opinionated and what he did to me in those 6-7 months, was to convince me that there wasn’t just one right way of looking and doing things.  It just depends upon your perspective. Anything could be right, anything could be wrong,” replied Rajput.

The answer was typical of the philosophical, often paradoxical selfmusings.   Many media personnel are now expressing deep shock, remembering him as a intelligent man, but how many of them bothered to check his social media accounts. The fact that Rajput didn’t post a single Tweet since December 27 should have led one to ask why is he inactive on Twitter for close to six months?. He was a regular on Instagram though.  His last Instagram post [on 3 June, 2020] reminiscing about his mother was laced with the typical dilemma.  It’s no secret that his mother’s death had affected him severely.

While he had his relationships, but Rajput’s largely lived alone in Mumbai. He immersed himself into his thoughts and books.  It’s now buzzed that the actor was depressed for the last six months and had been under medication.  The lockdown due to the Covid-19 pandemic, perhaps, made it more difficult for Rajput. If you are lonely then often you choose to be workaholic for you are never alone at work.  The police investigation might throw up more light into his suicide but nothing can change the tragedy that has befallen upon us today [14 June].

A promising career cut short would be an understatement.  There are just three words that define the man’s life.   He emerged as a WINNER in MS: Dhoni: The Untold Story [2016], a sporting LOSER in Chhichhore, and then off the camera, he’ll forever remain an ENIGMA.  Sadly, many stories will remain untold without you.  Our thoughts and prayers to his dear ones. We hope Sushant Singh Rajput has found peace in the arms of his late mother and the heavens are awaiting his next selfmusing.

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