The show of support to alleged drug abuser, peddler Rhea Chakraborty by a handful of celebs in the Sushant Singh Rajput case questions Bollywood’s desire to eradicate the drug menace in the film industry
By Mayur Lookhar
The drug trail in the Sushant Singh Rajput death case has seen his girlfriend Rhea Chakraborty, her brother Showik, and four others being arrested. As widely expected, more names are set to tumble. As claimed by Times Now, the first set of names to tumble out included Rhea’s so-called friends – rising star Sara Ali Khan, Rakul Preet Singh, and designer Simone Khambatta. More big names are expected to be revealed in the coming days.
[Note, the Narcotics Control Bureau has so far denied any of the above names being in any Bollywood list]
While Indians await more alleged sensational disclosures, over the last few weeks, one has seen Chakraborty find some support from people within the industry. Post Sushant Singh Rajput’s death, save for the condolences Tweets, most Bollywood celebrities have remained mum on the case. Initially, the case veered towards the alleged nepotism angle, but once the Central Bureau of Investigation honed in on the alleged drug angle, the Narcotics Control Bureau stepped in and the rest is there in front of us.
This new found support for Rhea Chakraborty has crept in from the time the drug angle emerged in this case. The likes of Anurag Kashyap, Taapsee Pannu, Swara Bhasker, Kubbra Sait, Sonam Kapoor Ahuja, Shibani Dandekar and surprisingly even Vidya Balan sense media trial, patriarchy in the criticism of Rhea Chakraborty. All the above names had rightly condemned the mobbing of Chakraborty by video journalists and photographers. While Pannu has been subtle in expressing her empathy towards Chakraborty, Dandekar and Anurag Kashyap have been more vocal in slamming the perceived media trial. They have whipped up the patriarchy debate. Dandekar, who is producer-actor Farhan Akhtar’s girlfriend, was involved in a war of words with Rajput’s former girlfriend Ankita Lokhande on social media.
Rhea and her lawyer Satish Maneshinde have called the entire probe, Rhea’s arrest a result of the media trial being carried out simultaneously.
Honestly, all this talk of patriarchy is simply bizarre. Chakraborty is the prime accused in the Sushant Singh Rajput case. What does the accusation have to do with her gender? Surely, there is no mention of words like patriarchy, media trial, vilification, witch-hunt in the charges against her. A noted actor has died under mysterious circumstances, and his death is bound to raise several questions. Thankfully, our judiciary, law enforcing agencies don’t bother to look at any misogyny, patriarchy comments on news or social media. And they are never influenced by it.
Jiah Khan’s mother Rabia is still battling to seek justice for her daughter. When Sooraj Pancholi was accused of abetting Jiah Khan’s suicide in 2013, did anyone indulge into any frivolous talks of matriarchy, misandry? No, they didn’t. So why should any frivolous talk of patriarchy be entertained in the Sushant Singh Rajput death case. At the end of the day, Sushant is a victim while Rhea Chakraborty is a prime accused. As civilians, we must allow the law to take its own course, rather than pass any comment in favour of the victim or the accused.
Anurag Kashyap is an interesting case. Today, he raises a voice against patriarchy. Ironically, a few years ago here was the same man who posted a tweet against a female journalist for calling him constantly for a story. Kashyap had copped criticism for he not only tweeted the female journalist’s name but also posted her mobile number on a public platform. The journalist is said to have been heckled by mischievous callers. Strangely, when a female employee was allegedly sexually, mentally harassed by his Phantom Films colleague Vikas Bahl, Kashyap did nothing about it. He would later tell in an interview that he wanted to do something but he was helpless. Kashyap’s silence in the particular case seriously dents his anti-patriarchy image.
This bizarre limited support for Chakraborty, an accused in a suspected suicide, drug case seriously questions Bollywood’s desire in eradicating the drug menace in the film industry. Go back to 2016 and it was a totally different picture then. Director Abhishek Chaubey’s Udta Punjab  was censored by the then CBFC [Central Board of Film Certification] chief Pahlaj Nihalani. Chaubey and his producers Balaji Motion Pictures, Phantom Films found tremendous support from the industry. A bevy of current and past filmmakers, producers all had firmly rallied behind Udta Punjab makers and condemned the high-handedness of Nihalani and the then CBFC board.
A press conference was held that was attended by dozens of filmmakers/producers. The likes of super star Aamir Khan had come out and openly lent their support to Anurag Kashyap and co. Khan had told reporters that this film talks about drug menace and so it gives a great social message. The film was cleared by the court and it achieved fair success.
Now when the industry grapples with the alleged drug menace in its own backyard, there have been few voices who have condemned the drug culture. The super stars have largely stayed mum, perhaps not wanting to be associated with any controversy. Kangana Ranaut doesn’t have too many friends in Bollywood, but save for the odd voices – Raveena Tandon, Sonu Nigam, Adhyayan Suman, the others have simply kept quiet. Yes, there is a global pandemic, but where are the present and past filmmakers, producers now?
Ranaut has copped few criticism for claiming that 99% of the people in the film industry take drugs. That figure might be a bit exaggerated, but didn’t the Udta Punjab  trailer claim that 70% of youth in Punjab is into drugs? During the initial press conference held at JW Marriot, Mumbai, yours truly had asked Chaubey whether this 70% was borne out of creative liberty or was it based on any research?
“It’s a point of view that was expressed by a character in the film. I stand by the data that the government, AIIMS [All India Institute of Medical Sciences] has provided regarding this matter. In the film, the context was that it was a particular character’s point of view. Since then we have taken note of the fact that people might take umbrage to it, and we have rectified it,” replied Chaubey .
It’s been four years, and it’s hard to recall the film in its entirety. If our memory serves us right, the 70% claim wasn’t rectified in the film.
If filmmakers are ready to make such a claim in a film, then they shouldn’t be offended by Kangana’s 99% claim either. After all, it is just an individual’s view. Be it real or reel, often most Indians take such figures with a pinch of salt.
A Covid-19 pandemic has forced most citizens home. You do wonder, if there was no pandemic, would the few celebrities had taken to the road to voice against the perceived misogyny, patriarchy faced by Rhea Chakraborty?
If we look at the history of Bollywood, often when their own are on the wrong side of the law, the film industry has backed the tainted personnel. Turn back to the 90s, and Mahesh Bhatt had led a swamp of industry people on the road asking for the release of Sanjay Dutt, who was booked under stringent terror acts in connection with the 1993 Mumbai blasts. The late actor, politician Sunil Dutt had knocked on the doors of rival politician Balasaheb Thackeray to save his son.
The same 90s also saw the suicide of Rekha’s husband Mukesh Aggarwal and the actress was labelled a witch by certain section of the media. Remarkably, some people who stood for Dutt, had joined the press in the witch hunt against Rekha. 30 years on, feminism now has a strong voice in society, but it is naive to apply that in a case that involves alleged drug procurement, peddling. We’ve mentioned about the silly patriarchal debate earlier in this feature.
As a seasoned journalist, yours truly has observed that the film industry is usually evasive when it comes to commenting on socially relevant issues. In the past, any mention of casting couch /nepotism was often met with, “Oh this happens everywhere. Doctors son’s also becomes a doctor. So, don’t single us out.” Bollywood has long toed this line, but for a doctor’s child to emulate the father/mother, s/he needs to study, and clear, medical science for four years.
Once the #MeToo movement gained momentum in India, it became difficult to toe the cliched defensive line.
Far too long has Bollywood buried its head in the sand, and bypassed the social ills plaguing it. It is astonishing that amidst this whole alleged drug culture talk in Bollywood, the industry has stuck to its “please don’t generalise us” defence. Zoya Akhtar chucked Kangana’s anti-nepotism crusade by saying how there are many cases of ‘outsiders’ shining in the industry. She hit out at the media at large for not showing human decency. Ironically, as disclosed by veteran respected journalist Shekhar Gupta in his piece on The Print, Zoya’s team forgot their decency, humanity when they threatened to boycott an awards show if their film Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara  wasn’t given the award.
Civility is not applicable to media alone. But surprisingly, no one from the film industry condemned Sohail Khan for abusing female journalists for simply asking Salim Khan if rumours of Salman Khan getting married are true? A day or two later, Salman Khan pinned the blame on media for infringing the family privacy. For the record, the two journalists were on a public street waiting for Salim Khan and Sohail to step out from the social gathering they were attending.
Not a soul from Bollywood, or the so-called anti-patriarchy warriors condemned Sohail or Salman.
Recently, we had the Producers’ Guild and later Cine & TV Artistes’ Association [CINTAA] each issuing a statement wherein they expressed grief over Sushant Singh Rajput’s death, but called out the media for subscribing to victimisation, unethical journalism. The statement by CINTAA was baffling as it was highly critical of the media coverage and urged the news media industry to introspect. CINTAA is a highly respected body, but when did news media come under its ambit? Can CINTAA lay down ethical ways of reporting to the news media?
If people don’t like a particular media coverage, the individual or authority can complain to National Broadcasting Association or The Indian Newspaper Society [INS]. Damn, if you are brave enough, file an official complaint with the police if you think a particular coverage was inappropriate. Just like news media can’t lecture the film industry on ways of film making, how can the film industry lecture media on journalism?
There is no denying that the media needs introspection. There are over 400 news and current affairs channels in India. Are all of them resorting to sensational journalism? Aren’t film bodies generalising the media when they say MEDIA is resorting to sensational journalism?
Film industry has been critical of the blind items that often border on an artiste’s personal life. A popular actor, who was once a close friend of Sushant Singh Rajput, didn’t hesitate in calling blind items illegal and wanted them banned. We, too, are not fond of blind items, but are they illegal? While many of these stories could be cooked up, but remember these blind items don’t fall from the skies. There is someone close to the artiste who leaks, spreads such stories.
In her interview to TV Today Network, Rhea Chakraborty called out PR professional Rohini Iyer and actor Sanjana Sanghi as the probable villains in Rajput’s life. Chakraborty suspected Iyer of orchestrating these blind items. Iyer had Rajput as a client for a few years. The Mumbai police, CBI have called Iyer for questioning. One doesn’t know the truth here, but we iterate, blind items don’t fall from the sky.
Some noisy news media houses need an introspection, but it would be premature to label all media as unprofessional. The key to solving a problem is firstly accepting it. When you can take a stand against drugs in films, why can’t the industry clean its house first? The general public views can’t be regulated. Media though needs to be careful in not victimising any artiste before s/he is pronounced guilty. Media can stop questioning the film industry on the alleged drug culture if the latter introspects and takes out the few bad eggs. Also, anyone taking drugs shouldn’t be labelled as a national villain. The Bollywood youth who maybe into such activities should be sensitised on the grave consequences, legally or physically, of consuming drugs. Any suggestion of distinguishing between good drug (marijuana) / bad drug has to be abolished. Last checked, save bhang (edible cannabis), consumption of all narcotics and psychotropic drugs are banned in India. CINTAA has been lauded for its ‘Outreach’ program. Any person bogged by any financial, emotional distress shouldn’t hesitate in reaching out to bodies like CINTAA.
2020 is a dark year globally. We’ve lost a promising talent like Sushant Singh Rajput to drug menace. This is film industry’s Udta Bollywood moment, a time to usher in a positive change and weed out the drug menace. Is the industry serious about it or do they want to lecture the media? The media can’t clean their house. The ball rather the broom lies in your corridor, Bollywood.