A month after Sushant Singh Rajput’s untimely demise, I look back at his journey with a sense of familiarity and a touch of regret for not appreciating the artist enough.
Year 2009. A couple of months before my 10th grade exams, there is a new show on the television. It’s a Balaji telefilms serial. So far, I haven’t missed even a single episode of their blockbuster soaps. I have seen Tulsi grow from a meek Bahu to a trigger-happy mother to a compassionate Saas. I have seen Parvati transform from a docile daughter-in-law to a swanky socialite and shrewd entrepreneur. I have seen Ramola Sikand scheming devious plots and Komolika executing Machiavellian masterstrokes in the Ekta Kapoor world, one after another.
But the new show is different. It’s not about the swanky abodes of Basus, Agrawals and Viranis. It doesn’t have the overdressed vamps, nor does it boast of a family of 20. It’s about residents of a Mumbai chawl and a lovely little love story of Maanav and Archana. Ankita who plays Archana is a debutante but I have seen Sushant in a supporting role before in Kis Des Mein Hai Mera Dil- another Balaji soap. The lead pair is adorable but I am swamped with a seemingly insane coursework to ace, so I don’t bother myself much with the show.
A couple of months later, I move to Delhi to pursue higher education. Pavitra Rishta is a huge hit by now. People are drooling over Sushant and Ankita’s characters set in a traditional Marathi background. It is in Delhi that I realise that Sushant too is from Bihar and was actually a neighbour of my aunt in Patna. It is from her that I get to know that he too was a Science student who got through a well-known Engineering college in Delhi but decided to go forth with his dream of getting into acting.
Two years later, I too have given up on my parents’ dream of seeing me as an engineer and have enrolled for a degree in English literature. I have ample time on my hands. My relatively lighter schedule allows me to balance a critical reading of Victorian balls with my obsession for Jhalak Dikhla Jaa- a dance reality show. I am rooting for Meiyang Chang but Sushant is another hot favourite. His tribute to Madhuri (an eternal favourite of mine) to her song O re Piya moves me to a whole new level. One can see his love for the film industry when he narrates anecdotes of getting Madhuri’s Hum Aapke Hain Koun lehengas for his sisters, or gushes over Shah Rukh Khan. Sushant loses the competition narrowly to Meiyang Chang but wins many a heart and his heartthrob by the end of the show- he proposed to his then girlfriend Ankita on the sets after scoring a perfect 30 for three weeks in a row.
A year later, Sushant has moved on to the big screen. His debut film Kai Po Che is being appreciated but my paltry pocket money doesn’t allow me the luxury of watching films in the theatre. Also, I am sceptical of TV stars as film stars. So many actors have tried their hands at the big screen and failed. I see the movie several months later on the TV and am pleasantly dazzled by Sushant’s performance. He shines throughout the film, even managing to overshadow the brilliant Rajkumar Rao and Amit Saadh in parts. Amit is another actor who moved from TV to films (Remember Adi from Kyun Hota Hai Pyaar?)
Many years pass by and I am beginning to rekindle my love for films.There is great buzz around Saif’s daughter Sara Ali Khan making her debut. I distinctly remember her cover for a leading magazine several years ago with her mother; the chubby teen has transformed magically and I am dying to see another generation of Pataudis on the big screen. I narrowly miss Kedarnath in the theatres and wait several months before it releases on a streaming platform. Sara blows my mind away, but it is Sushant who holds the film together. The honesty of his character Mansoor is so appealing, that it makes you weak in your knees. Spoiler ahead: I cry uncontrollably when I see him getting washed off in a deluge, even the three times when I re-watched the film. Sushant has a light, almost dream-like presence in the film- not overbearing in his portrayal and definitely not fleeting. He is like the itr (perfume) from the song ‘Qaafirana’ in the film
‘Aise tum mile ho, jaisi mil rahi hai itr se hawa’
I rave about the film to everyone I know- my colleagues, parents, sisters and all my friends on Instagram. I keep revisiting the song and Qaafirana plays on loop till one day in the office on a slow Sunday afternoon we get the news of his demise. It’s sudden, it’s shocking. I am trying to tell myself that it hasn’t happened even as I type the words on the breaking news ticker ‘SUSHANT SINGH RAJPUT NO MORE’.
And just like that he is no more. With every passing minute in the newsroom, I am introduced to new facts about him. He was a science buff. Had a telescope in his home. Had a crazy bucket list of 50 wishes. Was funding charities. Wanted to retire as a farmer. There is just so much information that after a point my brain just gives up. I am moved as if it’s some personal loss and I don’t even know why. Was it the fact that someone can take that extreme a step when everything for him was seemingly going well? Was it the fact that I had seen him grow from a TV star to a Bollywood lead? Was it a vague sense of camaraderie for belonging to the same state? I couldn’t tell. I decide to retire for the day.
By the time I reach home I want to rid myself of the guilt of not having seen enough of his films, so I decide to watch one of his last films Chhichhore. Sushant plays the father of a teen who attempts suicide. It is the concluding monologue of the movie that still rings in my ears every time I think of Sushant
‘Agar zindagi mein kuch sabse zyada important hai toh woh hai zindagi’