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Why has one actor’s death dominated Indian media this year?

  • Culture

By Anneka Shah, BA Chinese (Modern and Classical)

India is facing not only the devastating impacts of Covid-19, but is experiencing turmoil in relations with China, and outrage continues in response to ongoing issues of rape and sexual assault that threaten the security of its citizens. Yet, one story that continues to dominate the media in India, and WhatsApp groups of Indians living abroad, is the ever developing ‘investigation’ into the death of Sushant Singh Rajput in June 2020. It has reached such a level of intensity that Bollywood producers are filing a lawsuit against the media on the nature of their reporting.

Sushant Singh Rajput was a TV star turned film actor who died by suicide on 14 June 2020 at the age of 34. His death shocked Bollywood fans and reminded many of the hard realities in the industry. Initially, issues of nepotism were blamed for a decline in his mental health. However, news coverage quickly moved from debates around mental health to accusations projected at individuals for the death of Rajput. Many Bollywood actors received threats and were blamed for his death on social media. The media-led murder investigation specifically targeted Rajput’s girlfriend, Rhea Chakraborty.

So why is this story still so prominent months after the event? Is the demonisation of Rajput’s girlfriend, portraying her as someone who led him to his death, a cruel replacement for the exaggerated drama of films and TV that have been missing because of the pandemic? Or, is this the government’s way to distract the public from difficulties the country is facing in regards to unemployment, unprecedented case numbers of Covid-19, and the largest recession on record?

It seems that the people are truly over-invested in this story and in Bollywood as an industry. The Economic Times has reported on multiple Facebook groups created by Indian nationals searching for answers related to Rajput’s death. Their investigation found that ‘a mere search for “Sushant” on CrowdTangle [a site for analysing social media trends] reveals over 500 million interactions since June 15, with over 870,000 public posts.’ 

These Facebook groups are one element that continue to fuel the media coverage and add to the story and this, in turn, distracts public attention away from the country’s other pressing issues. Whilst some people have started to speak out on the issues embodied by Bollywood, more must be done to tackle the long-lasting problems of nepotism, sexism, and mental health, which many are happy to ignore for a two-hour escape to the cinema. Indians across the world must push back on how the media shapes realities, and reclaim ways of addressing issues that impact  communities.

Photo Caption: Sushant Singh Rajput at promotions for the biopic ‘M.S Dhoni: The Untold Story’. Credit: Bollywood Hungama.

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