Readers Write In #207: Sushant Singh Rajput and the cutthroat world of cinema

Posted on June 17, 2020


(by Hariharasudhen Nagarajan)

I am still not over Sushant Singh Rajput’s death. It sends a signal to those looking to pursue a career in the movie industry that no matter how many successful films you give, no matter how many successful directors you work with, if you are an outsider, you will eventually consider yourself to be a failure and want to give up your life.

I was reading a write-up based on Shekhar Kapur’s recent Instagram Live session, where he discussed Sushant’s commitment towards the director’s shelved film Paani. Here is the link to the piece:

Three things that he said during the session hit me hard:

  1. His interest went way beyond… Every time I had a meeting with the production designer or the DOP or VFX team, he was there.
  2. Humarizindagiyaan hi kuchaisihotihai – ups and downs. Aur yeh jo lafzhai – depression… Aisanahihai main kehrahahoonki depression nahihoti, main aisakehrahahoonki depression eklafzhaijiskesaath hum khelletehai (When the film was shelved and he realised he wasn’t doing the film, he cried a lot. I cried too. I would cry every time he cried because I was also passionately and deeply involved with it. Our lives are full of ups and downs. This term – ‘depression’… I am not saying that depression does not exist, I am saying that we play with depression). As creative people, it is an emotion that we play with.
  3. Sushant would always push himself in every little way. Every cell of his would be involved. How can you come out of that easily? You can’t!

It is a given that any artist has to put in a lot of hard work (not even talking about the quality of the final output here) to have his work out there for people to see. Be it, someone who creates comedy sketches, paints, writes film reviews, does video reviews, and so many more. Everything requires time, money, and effort. Some of the activities suck one’s soul and take the person into a bottomless pit called depression from where there might be no coming back.

Social media clout through PR activities, Box Office collections, and salaries, because they are actual stats, determine how people perceive an artist. Terms equivalent to these drive other fields today.

The first thing my career advisor told me when she went over my resume was to write my job duties embellished with stats: how many projects I was able to complete during that time, how many clients I helped out during that time, how many incident reports I created during that time, etc. The phrase, according to her, that determined how easily I would end up landing a new job was ‘how many,’ which denotes ‘numbers’.

Numbers show us the results, numbers show us people’s tastes, numbers make an artist’s career, and numbers break an artist’s career. A candidate is hired based on the numbers he has generated in the past. The same employee can get fired because he failed to produce the numbers expected out of him. The world, today, thrives on ‘perform or perish’ mantra.

Success requires hard work, but hard work does not lead to success a lot of times. It’s never a pleasant feeling to see a labor of love not reaching more people and leading to more opportunities. Even a Twitter user who posts a tweet, thinking that it’s witty or creative or funny, feels down for a moment when it doesn’t reach more people. Now, think about the larger picture when it contains artists on larger platforms like YouTube, OTTs, and, the biggest of them all, the movie theatre.

What is the defense mechanism for an artist to deal with failure or rejection, especially in the highly competitive movie industry where the bigshots can end careers over a text message? How would an artist deal with trolls on social media when his work gets ripped apart? Should an artist stay away from social media, which may make the artist fear that he may lose his pulling power? Should the artist just do his work and live in his bubble, entirely away from the real world, surrounded and protected by his close associates? There is no clear solution to this as creativity drives artists. Creativity can come through interactions with people on social media, real-life, etc. But, even the common man has to survive the trolls and negativity on social media and overcome obstacles in real life. Should creativity now have boundaries? I am not too sure.

As artists who take their craft seriously and want to do a thorough job, the only way to pull through today is by having a plan. It may be a pre-decided goal that would help the individual pull through even if his endeavor works out or doesn’t work out. There should be some defense mechanism. As the world has progressed in terms of technology, the expectations have become higher to produce top-notch output, leading to increased competition and pushing more artists into dealing with mental health issues. There will be those successful artists who would epitomize the idiom ‘being in the right place at the right time.’ But what about the ones who, unfortunately, missed the ship and lived in their boats or got drowned in the ocean of sorrow? Only time has the answer.