Every culture across the world has always accorded special significance to death. And it is not a phenomenon that demands any special explanation. Death is after all the inevitability that awaits us all. From nothingness we came and into nothingness we shall dissolve. The finality of death and the irreversibility of it is what lends meaning to our existence. As a wise man once sad, everything is more beautiful because it has to end.
For all such reasons, death is a very solemn occasion. Across cultures, it appears to be the norm that people do not speak ill of the dead on the particular day and it is perceived as insensitive to gossip about the deceased on such occasions. But times are changing, with increasing penetration of the internet in public life, such norms of decency are fast losing traction and death, far from being an occasion for mourning, only serves more fodder for the fires that rage across the lengths and breadths of social media.
Perhaps the circumstances are not as bad. The recent death of football legend Diego Maradona saw the world uniting as one to pay homage to one of the greatest footballers to have ever lived. Even in India, the death of popular entertainers has also evoked sincere sympathies from all sections of the internet. Perhaps, it depends on how a person conducted himself when alive. Perhaps it has something to do with Karma or perhaps, it is sheer dumb luck. But it is an undisputed fact that in the era of the internet, not every public figure is blessed enough to receive a solemn discourse over his death.
No one has been more unfortunate in this particular regard than the late Sushant Singh Rajput. The circumstances of his death were tragic but even more wretched was the public discourse that prevailed in its aftermath. A promising life was cut short prematurely and if that was not horrid enough, the convention of the sanctity of death, that is accorded to people with much more dubious inclinations, was not awarded to him.
His death set in motion a chain of events that could only ever be accurately described as a circus. But the attention span of people is low, therefore, they quietly moved on to greener pastures that promised more entertainment while Sushant Singh Rajput faded from public memory. A lot of people did try to use his death for their objectives. Now, the only people who do remember him are his parents and family and perhaps, some of his most dedicated fans. Perhaps, that is what should happened before all the circus ensued.
Sushant Singh Rajput’s death opened a can of worms and the tragedy gave rise to bizarre events that nobody could have foreseen at all. It was the demonstration of the Butterfly Effect in real time. Therefore, it is worth noting perhaps how one thing gave rise to another which led to another and soon, assumed proportions that would have been unimaginable in the immediate aftermath of his death. To be clear, not everyone acted out of malice and some people, we are sure, did act out of genuine concern. But it cannot be denied that from the outside, all of this appeared to be a circus clown dancing on the corpse of a tragedy.
The Depression Cycle
When news first broke out, it was reported that Sushant Singh Rajput had committed suicide. The investigation did not appear to have been concluded but disturbing images of his lifeless body started doing the rounds of the internet. Therefore, what began was a cycle of sermons on depression. It appeared that everyone was an expression on mental health that day. Again, we are not saying that anyone acted out of malice or apathy but it just happened.
Then, of course, people went overboard and started posting that anyone suffering from depression or feeling low could text them anytime and their inbox was always open. We remember saying at the time that this was a very bad idea and could lead to terrible consequences. But there were others as well on social media and elsewhere who said the same. Nonetheless, depression and mental health continued to dominate headlines and it was fair enough. Mental health is a very pertinent issue in this day and age.
The Nepotism-Murder Cycle
The cycle that followed the Depression Cycle was the ‘Nepotism vs Talent’ debate and the ‘Suicide vs Murder’ debate. It was alleged by many that SSR’s poor mental health was due to the culture of nepotism that prevails in the Bollywood film industry. It was alleged that SSR was deliberately shoved out of movies because industry stalwarts were more keen on providing opportunities to sons and daughters in the industry than ‘outsiders’, that is, people with no perceived backing in the industry.
Soon, allegations of murder began surfacing. From the outside, it appears that the initial allegations of murder were concerned with the perception that Sushant Singh Rajput was pushed into committing suicide by the overwhelming nepotism that prevailed in Bollywood. The murder allegations might have transformed into something else entirely later but our perception is that this is how it began.
Again, these are still sensible grounds. Any discussion around mental health, nepotism and the possible cause of death are serious discussions and deserve their space. Then, there was another cycle that occurred which we will discuss below which constitute serious discussions. It is what happened apart from all of this that is the object of our consternation.
The Drug Cartel Cycle
Soon after, allegations of drug abuse within the industry surfaced and it was speculated that it might have had something to do with SSR’s untimely demise. That line of investigation has certainly opened a Pandora’s box and exposed the dark underbelly of Bollywood. Numerous actors and actresses have been summoned by the Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) and arrests have also been made.
No one could have predicted that SSR’s death would have triggered a set of events that led to the arrest of comedian Bharti Singh and her husband. But such a thing did come to pass. Again, as we said before, it was a demonstration of the Butterfly Effect in real time. Nonetheless, thus far, we have remained on matters that constitute serious discussions. It is the other cycles that have run parallel to this that beggars belief.
The Jurisdiction Cycle
During the investigation into the death of Sushant Singh Rajput, the Mumbai Police found itself at loggerheads with Bihar Police and the CBI. The confrontation was related to jurisdiction over the matter. The Bihar Police had registered an FIR in the case after receiving a formal complaint but the Maharashtra Government insisted that Bihar Police had no jurisdiction in the matter. What resulted was non-cooperation and some bitter battles.
The Maharashtra Government allegedly put hurdles in the path of the Bihar Police’s investigation into the unnatural death of the actor. Senior Bihar Police officer IPS Vinay Tiwari was reportedly sent to quarantine forcefully by BMC officials on reaching Mumbai. Soon, it escalated into a Bihar vs Maharashtra battle with the Bihar Government recommending a CBI inquiry while the latter maintained that there was no need for one.
It inevitably became a BJP vs Shiv Sena battle, with BJP in an alliance government in Bihar and the other in the ruling Maha Vikas Aghadi alliance in Maharashtra, after the recent split between the two parties. Somehow, the Karni Sena, most famous for its protests against the movie Padmavati, also entered the fray and there was a short Shiv Sena vs Karni Sena tussle that was witnessed as well.
The Ideological Battle Cycle
With political parties so perfectly arranged, it was only natural that ideological battles would soon ensue. The death of Sushant Singh Rajput had somehow transformed into a battleground for the Left vs the Right. The Right naturally questioned the Maharashtra Government’s stance on the matter, which to be quite honest, was shady. They appeared far too eager to shut the case and appeared hell bent on shying away from transparency.
Nonetheless, the Left argued that the case was deliberately politicised to target the Maharashtra Government without paying attention to the fact that the alliance was digging its own grave by not being transparent enough. Furthermore, there were legitimate concerns in public domain that deserved and do deserve proper answers. But the ideological battle reached its peak with the arrest of Rhea Chakraborty.
When the actress, and former girlfriend of the deceased actor, reached the NCB Office on the 8th of September for her interrogation, she wore a t-shirt that garnered the headlines. Her t-shirt carried the message ‘Smash the Patriarchy’ although it is unclear what patriarchy had to do with any of it. After all, the chain of events was set in motion by the unfortunate death of a man. And she was called for interrogation not because she is a woman but in connection with a drug probe.
But the media, of course, ran with it and the Left erupted in incomprehensible cacophony. And somehow, an unfortunate death under mysterious circumstances provided fodder for a ‘Feminism vs Patriarchy’ debate.
The Personality Battle Cycle
The battles mentioned above are not the only ones that occurred. Numerous other people were embroiled in seemingly existential wars as well. We had Arnab Goswami vs Rajdeep Sardesai, Kangana Ranaut vs Maharashtra Government and numerous other celebrities engaging in their battles over nepotism allegations. Since then, Kangana Ranaut has had her office demolished by the BMC.
While it is not certain that her comments on SSR incited the wrath of the BMC, it does appear to be a contributory factor. Similarly Arnab Goswami, who was very vocal against the conduct of the Maharashtra Government over the matter, found himself as the victim of state-sanctioned persecution. Again, in this instance as well, the SSR coverage on Republic TV appears to be a contributory factor as Arnab Goswami had been vociferous in his condemnation of the government over the Palghar Lynching.
Somehow, in the midst of all this, a fringe character with questionable credibility, Vibhor Anand, found himself in prison as well. Vibhor Anand was arrested on the 15th of October by Mumbai police on charges of spreading conspiracy theories about the death of Sushant Singh Rajput and making ‘false’ allegations against Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray. Interestingly enough, Vibhor Anand had blamed Arnab Goswami for his own tweets.
Recently, he shared images of himself where he looks visibly injured which appear to be caused by a physical assault. We, however, cannot be sure of it. Thus, we have Bharti Singh in prison, Rhea Chakraborty arrested, Arnab Goswami in prison, Kangana Ranaut’s office demolished, a fringe conspiracy theorist on the internet apparently assaulted and all of this, as improbable as it may seem, began with the unfortunate death of a Bollywood actor.
The Butterfly Effect
The Butterfly Effect theorizes that the smallest of changes in one part of the world could end up causing a tornado in the other part of the globe. The concept is imagined as a butterfly flapping its wings and causing a typhoon. What we observed in the aftermath of SSR’s death was something akin to that. It is undeniable that his death set in motion a chain of events that had far-reaching consequences which nobody could have earlier predicted.
Bharti Singh could never have imagined that she and her husband would end up in jail because of SSR’s death. But such are the time we are living in. And it perhaps serves as a tale of caution. That in this era, we should be a bit careful how we conduct ourselves online. Because one never knows when a particularly dangerous butterfly decides to flap its wings somewhere far across the world.
So where do things stand now? Well, the steam appears to have run out of the ‘Justice for SSR’ movement given the lack of institutional support that it did enjoy in its heydays. But dedicated fans continue to keep him in their memory in the hope that justice will be served in the matter. Moreover, we still do not know whether Sushant Singh Rajput was murdered or committed suicide.
Investigation agencies are still looking into it and we hope that a conclusion will be reached soon. His family, friends and fans do deserve closure. But the clash of politicized narratives that ensued in the aftermath of his death did indeed make a mockery of the emotions of the fans and his near and dear ones. However, the manner in which certain individuals and institutions conducted themselves, they do need to take a long hard look at the mirror.
But most of all, however, the whole episode reveals the fleeting nature of human life. At one moment, a man is well and alive and is larger than life. Almost immediately after, vultures are scavenging over his corpse. It is melancholic, yes, but above all, it is a lesson for all of us to be exercise more humility in our lives and be kinder and more generous. Because death is a fate we cannot escape. Rich or poor, proles or bourgeoise, smart or dumb as a dodo, death comes for us all.