Readers Write In #210: Sushant Singh Rajput and the curse of introversion

Posted on June 23, 2020

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(by Madan Mohan)

Seeing as everyone, including myself, has only been talking about Sushant Singh Rajput for the last week or so, I didn’t want to compose a write up that would pile on. Until I saw something today that hit a raw nerve…

The first time I watched Sushant Singh Rajput in a film was as Byomkesh Bakshi in Dibakar Banerjee’s stylish if uneven film on the fictional detective. I found him to be a rather flamboyant presence and not awkward enough for Byomkesh, if anything. The next film I saw him in was PK, in which he had an able supporting essay. Somehow, his path as an actor and mine as a viewer never crossed again and we never met until…well, God made it so we would never be able to, not even across the curtain.

Based on the above two films, I would have never guessed him to be the person saying what he does here in this clip:

The part where he said it wasn’t that he didn’t like people but that somehow people didn’t like to talk to him and would give up pretending to in short order…I identified immediately with that.

I am terrible with small talk. I have cultivated some measure of it as a professional necessity and I have also grown comfortable with owning this part of me over a period of time. But it is still not something I particularly enjoy. I also do understand that my interests may be too arcane for some or maybe a lot of people. And I don’t blame THEM for it. But – and here comes a generalisation – extroverts are often terrible at understanding that there’s nothing necessarily wrong with someone who doesn’t behave like them and can go to great lengths to make such a person feel even more uncomfortable by haranguing them about it. When extroversion comes together with glamour and show sha, it can create an environment not particularly conducive for a bookish introvert.

My brush with such an environment was not in the entertainment industry but in what you’d take to be the rather conventional environs of the tax practice of a top accounting firm. But you see, the main perks of a gig with good pay and gruelling hours are parties and offsites where the liquor flows like a river and dance floors that never turn the lights off. And if you don’t fit in in an environment where the above is regarded as the ultimate in life, you get regarded as boring or weird or both. It was probably the last in my case. The interesting books, films or music I could talk about only made me weird; that is, it would in their eyes have made me a better person to be able to wax eloquent about, I don’t know, Housefull or something. This, as an aside, is why I don’t suffer arguments about movie snobs making people feel bad very gladly. I know how it is IRL, kiddo, so don’t pull that shit with me. And to survive and thrive in that firm, you didn’t just need to work hard and be good at what you did but be able to strut around, parading your awesomeness. The fact that I did not seem to make an effort in that direction and was happy to be left to my devices made the rest (not all, but some) wonder what was wrong with me.

I did not have a long stint at that firm. I didn’t fancy the long working hours combined with an environment where I had the additional job responsibility of working on my personality. I learnt that I was far more comfortable in organisations with somewhat socially conservative middle class employees because they (the irony!) did not judge me for not making myself exciting to be with 24/7, unlike these folks from fancy SoBo or Western suburb localities who sounded so posh and, um, urban but seemed to make up their mind about you based merely off your appearance.

Which is why I could immediately relate to it when Sushant said it took a lot of effort to be exciting all the time and pretend (note the choice of word) to know your shit all the time. Because an introvert doesn’t talk much and, as a corollary, spends more time listening, he or she will usually find it difficult to exude unshakable and invincible confidence and would be more liable to speak like an insurance advert disclaimer. I recall, particularly, this incident where I was having a cup of coffee with two interns and one of them cut me off because the other mentioned the band Kings of Leon and I began to ask him about it and this made her deeply uncomfortable. Because she didn’t know about the existence of the band prior to this convo and, secondly, the fact that I, the boring, awkward one, did was a fatal blow to her cooleth ratio. I can visualise Sushant innocently making conversation about the stars and Bollywood insiders cutting him off because to them, anything they cannot convincingly sound knowledgeable about is boring.

Which is why the one question that has haunted me is what Sushant was doing in Bollywood at all. But I guess us introverts don’t all come in the same shapes and sizes (else, wouldn’t I too be as tall and handsome as he was, ha ha). For Sushant, his introversion didn’t get in the way of his dreaming and having the guts to pursue his dreams. Perhaps, though, this very fearlessness robbed him of the safety valve of cynicism that could have helped him keep it real, to remember that his industry friends would mostly be fairweather and, above all, to value his work for the sake of it rather than tie his happiness to the approval of his industry peers and overlords.

The thing he articulated in his talk at IIT-B that the happiness he derived from his material possessions was ephemeral – that was not something he seemed to have acted upon. How I wish he had given up that white elephant of a sports car, maybe cut his lifestyle and living space down to size as well and sought fulfilment in theater. Or just in teaching physics to students who would have valued his work more than Bollywood did his acting (and this is not a wild shot, he did say once that maybe he would end up as a teacher someday). But maybe he wouldn’t have been Sushant Singh Rajput the actor had he done those things. Fare thee well and long may you live, Sushant.