There’s a Succession of Suicides in India’s TV and Film Industry. It’s Now Tamil Actor VJ Chithra

Social Commentary

There’s a Succession of Suicides in India’s TV and Film Industry. It’s Now Tamil Actor VJ Chithra

Illustration: Robin Chakraborty

The year 2020 has been witness to multiple deaths by suicide by people from the entertainment industry. It has laid bare some of the faultlines in the work culture and social dynamics, that are seemingly hidden by all the glitz and glam.

The tragedy continues to pile on. In shocking news, 28-year-old Tamil TV actress VJ Chithra has died by suicide. Known for playing the role of Mullai in the popular show Pandian Stores, VJ Chithra was found hanging at a five-star hotel in Nazarethpettai in Chennai.

According to some news reports, VJ Chithra committed suicide as she was suffering from depression. In November, it was 53-year-old actor Asif Basra, who was found dead in his home in Mcleodganj in Dharamshala. TV actor and model Sameer Sharma, of Kahani Ghar Ghar Ki fame took his own life in Mumbai in early August. In the same month, Bhojpuri actress Anupama Pathak was found hanging in her residence, stating that she felt “cheated and couldn’t trust anyone”.

The suicide which shook the nation was that of Bollywood star Sushant Singh Rajput in June this year. A week before his death, his former manager Disha Salian had jumped from a high rise building in Mumbai. Around the same time, actor Ashutosh Bhakre, best known for his work in Marathi cinema, had allegedly committed suicide at his house in Nanded. Prior to that, TV actors Manmeet Grewal and Preksha Mehta had also allegedly taken their lives.

What is it about the entertainment industry that has led to a series of suicides over the past few months?

In a piece published in Outlook India, psychologist and professor Rajat Mitra narrated a conversation he had with an actor wherein the actor told him that he was “always trying to be someone else and not himself.” When pressed on why that was the case, he said it was the fame and recognition that came with it.

“I can’t go back now looking for that original me. Even though we are all false, it is our identity. The actor’s identity is too alluring. We are surrounded by people like us. None of your emotions are genuine. They are all plastic.” Then he had added, “You can leave it only through committing suicide or through psychotherapy.”

When asked whether celebrities are more vulnerable to mental health issues, Dr Prakriti Poddar, in an interview to Times Now pointed out, “In the entertainment industry, there is a lot of pressure to perform, not only on-screen but off-screen too by making right friends, being in news in the right manner, and being in touch with the right people. We have lost too many young and promising people in the entertainment industry to mental health issues. There are sporadic attempts to create a healthy atmosphere for people in the industry to talk about what’s troubling them, but we are still struggling.”

In the aftermath of Sushant Singh’s death, actress Deepika Padukone, a vocal advocate for mental health, had a conversation with Dr Shyam Bhat, Physician and Psychiatrist. During the course of the conversation, Dr Bhat pointed out that “The person fails to see an alternative for their problem, feels lonely, helpless, isolated and anguished. The thought process is affected and the person cannot think of an alternative, as the person’s mind cannot think of anything and the person feels that ending life will stop the excruciating pain in their mind and lives that death seems like the only option.”

The entertainment industry needs to create a healthy working culture and remove the stigma around discussing mental health issues and seeking help. That would be a decent start to tackling this mental health pandemic.