It rained very heavily on the day of actor Sushant Singh Rajput’s funeral — the first downpour of the Mumbai monsoon for 2020. It seemed as if the heavens were crying and mourning too like those down below at the tragic demise of the young star, a life cut short too soon. The entire country was shocked and perplexed — why would an extremely gifted actor racing ahead to the peak of his stardom die by committing suicide. Was it due to personal troubles, professional stress, a battle with depression, or a combination of them all? That’s a question only Sushant had the answer to and we may now never know and I don’t want to speculate further either. A Mumbai police probe is underway which might unearth the truth or not. The narrative though now should shift to celebrating Sushant’s work in the film and TV industry and remember his philanthropic and other intellectual endeavours, because that’s what he would have wanted.
Sushant was an actor by passion and profession but an engineer by education. He often spoke about how he was confused whether he wanted to be a pilot or an astronaut, and so became an actor who could play all these professions in one lifetime in different films. Dropping out of his engineering college two semesters before he got his degree, Sushant started dabbling in theatre and dance. A remarkable story in itself is how a background dancer who danced behind Shah Rukh Khan and Shahid Kapoor in award functions worked his way up to dancing along with them at the same awards functions a few years later. Soon after moving from Delhi to Mumbai, Sushant was spotted and picked for a television serial. TV is the medium that made him a household name, with his show Pavitra Rishta’s success. Many from the older generation joined the youth of our country in mourning his demise as they were the biggest connoisseurs of his daily soap. Often, before and after his film interviews, I would hear colleagues tell Sushant that they would go back home and tell their grand-parents that they met him who loved him from his Pavitra Rishta days. Sushant was destined for bigger things though and made the switch from TV to films effortlessly and successfully with Kai Po Che — a film for which he won critical and box office acclaim. He would have gone on to deliver bigger hits and do varied films immediately after, had it not been for contractual obligations as well as the wait for the film Paani, which never ended up being shot.
Three years after his debut, Sushant finally became a young superstar with MS Dhoni: The Untold Story which became a box office sensation. The film on one of cricket’s demi-gods in a cricket-crazy country like ours gave Sushant the much needed fillip to his film career firmly cementing him as one of the superstars of tomorrow. Fans referred to Sushant as Mahi when he would be spotted — one of the biggest compliments for an actor; and comedian Kapil Sharma even joked that Dhoni was the only one upset though as when he Google searched his name Sushant’s photo would pop up. With a box office hit of the magnitude of the Dhoni bio-pic and his acting capability, there should have been a plethora of films ready for Sushant to work on and eventually his fans to watch, but this didn’t happen leaving many baffled. His films like Kedarnath and Dil Bechara faced delays and Raabta didn’t work at the box office but Sushant kept striding ahead. He was a versatile actor and could balance his work in niche films like Sonchiriya and Detective Byomkesh Bakshy along with more commercial ones like Shuddh Desi Romance and Drive. I asked him in one of my interviews whether he would be open to playing a complete villainous role one day and he retorted saying while not in the near immediate future, but as he would live long, he would want to one day. Alas, that was not to be. Chhichhore was his last big box office hit which happened just last year, a film in which he played his character’s younger and older selves with much élan. The film ironically was on exam pressure and suicide, and my last interview with Sushant was for a special show speaking about mental pressure and stress.
Apart from his work on the big screen, his life and work off screen was equally important to him. A well educated, intelligent Sushant loved reading books and gazing at stars. His library and heavyduty telescope occupied pride of place in his Mumbai home. His dream was to make India’s first space film, which unfortunately could not happen, but he did spend time at NASA in the US, an experience which he deeply cherished. Such was his love for astro-physics that he even named his farm-house Orion, a space he would retreat too with his pro-team, a group of friends and colleagues with whom he would swim, strum a guitar, play table tennis, cricket and tennis with, but with whom he would also speak about his intellectual and philanthropic pursuits. From helping flood victims in Kerala and Nagaland to fund-raising for critical patients to sending children to study at NASA to organising screening for orphans and the elderly, Sushant was ever-ready to lend a helping hand. His social media posts were unlike other actors and would often be science-related. Whenever I interviewed him, I saw his philosophical and pensive side come out. His love for science was seen on his clothes and music too, as he loved listening to The Scientist by Coldplay and wearing T shirts with astronauts on them. He also often posted about and sported Tshirts of Lord Shiva, whom he deeply revered and prayed to. He was also working to assist our government to help entrepreneurs and attempt to restructure our education system.
Sushant was someone who had learnt to love living in the present and for excitement in his life. Not too often do you see actors or any other individuals make a bucket list and start living those dreams in one’s thirties. It was almost like he was in a hurry to fulfil all of them as fast as he could. I asked Sushant in my first interview with him before his debut film Kai Po Che’s release, what his biggest mistake was. The film was based on Chetan Bhagat’s novel 3 Mistakes of My Life and so I wondered what his biggest mistake was. He answered — not being able to go and meet his mother in 2002, a day before she died despite her asking him to. I take the liberty now to change Sushant’s answer in retrospective to say his biggest mistake was to take this decision to depart so soon, leaving his family, fans and the nation distraught.