By Dushyant Shekhawat Jul. 25, 2020
In the absence of a suicide note from Sushant Singh Rajput, the media and his fans worked themselves into a tizzy trying to make sense of what happened. To Rajput’s supporters, Dil Bechara will always be an important film due to it being his last, but using it to silence critics is a disservice to his legacy.
Yesterday, the film Dil Bechara released on online streaming platforms. Unlike other films though, this release was different, and not just because it was debuting online instead of in theatres. The distinguishing factor of Dil Bechara is the veritable minefield it has become for film reviewers. No other Bollywood film in recent memory has come so loaded with potential for triggering a troll attack from its supporters, not even the most unapologetically defended Sallu bhai disasterpieces. As the last film starring Sushant Singh Rajput, Dil Bechara has become an inadvertent casualty of the toxic narrative surrounding his suicide – a narrative that blames exclusion from Bollywood’s inner circle for Rajput’s death – rather than a celebration of his legacy as an actor.
Film critic Anupama Chopra announced that she would not be reviewing Dil Bechara. In her statement published yesterday, she said, “Sushant’s death is a loss for Hindi cinema. The circus that has followed his passing is equally sad. Instead of respectful introspection and trying to figure out how we can all do better, what is mostly on display is rank opportunism. The possibility of real change has been hijacked by settling scores and personal agendas. It’s ugly and utterly graceless.”
Should criticism be toned down?
Chopra’s measured statement is in contrast to the vile attacks against her by faceless social media trolls. Herself, Rajeev Masand, Taran Adarsh, and other prominent Bollywood critics have been targeted online by comments telling them (in much less polite language than is used here) to keep away from reviewing Dil Bechara as Rajput’s final film is greater than any review they could possibly write. Beyond the lurking trolls, public personalities like Chetan Bhagat have also come forward demanding that critics either review Dil Bechara favourably, or not at all.
However, this outrage is more imaginary than it is real. The so-called vendetta against Rajput, if it existed at all, rarely manifested itself in reviews of his films. Throughout his career, ever since he transitioned from working in TV serials to films, Rajput has praised for his performances rather than criticised. Even Chopra, Masand, and Adarsh, the alleged mouthpieces of the nexus against Rajput have had kind words to share about his craft.
In a review of Rajput’s debut film Kai Po Che!, Adarsh wrote “Sushant is a terrific actor, is blessed with wonderful screen presence and gets the timing of his character right. I see tremendous potential in him!” Masand, while reviewing MS Dhoni: The Untold Story, said Rajput’s performance in the lead role was “riveting” and “terrific”, as well as the “the key to staying invested in the film even when it trudges down a frankly boring and predictable path in its second half.” And Chopra, as she mentions in her statement explaining her decision to refrain from reviewing Dil Bechara, has praised Rajput in many reviews, even including his film Sonchiriya in her list of 2019’s Top 5 films.
The so-called vendetta against Rajput, if it existed at all, rarely manifested itself in reviews of his films.
The critic “nexus” against Sushant is concocted
If there was indeed a concerted campaign among the Bollywood establishment to discredit Rajput, then the reviews of his performances and his standing as one of Bollywood’s most promising talents don’t reflect that. Despite being an outsider to the industry and a supposed victim of its nepotism, he was able to build an impressive reputation as an actor. It’s a courtesy that was not extended to actual products of nepotism, for example Jackky Bhagnani or Harman Baweja, who were reduced to punchlines based on their performances very early in their careers. Blocking critics from reviewing Dil Bechara means that Rajput’s final turn to prove his mettle goes to waste.
Also, Dil Bechara is not solely the product of Rajput’s efforts. His co-stars, the directors, the shooting crew, and post-production are all stakeholders in the production. As a work of art created by collaboration of so many individuals, it deserves to be judged on its own merit. Blocking reviews of the film does an injustice to the dozens of people who brought it into being.
Rajput’s suicide was a tragedy whichever way you look at it. In the absence of a suicide note from the actor, the media and his fans worked themselves into a tizzy trying to make sense of what happened. What could have been an important discussion on mental health as well as unfair practises in Bollywood became a witch hunt, fuelled by misdirected anger and hate. To Rajput’s supporters, Dil Bechara will always be an important film due to it being his last, but using it to silence critics is a disservice to his legacy.