This article was written by Zarnab Tufail and Pooja C Singh.

The Patna-born Bollywood star, Sushant Singh Rajput, was from a humble background. His father served as a government officer. He transformed the situation by entering the world of Bollywood and giving life to his characters.

‘My strength would be my honesty and my passion towards my work.’

He worked hard and secured a high rank in AIEEE while still mourning the recent death of his mother. Being an epitome of a dynamic personality, his interests ranged from astrophysics, engineering, and aviation to dancing, modeling, poetry, and acting.

Sushant had a few childhood dreams, like owning a blue Maserati and visiting NASA. However, he always drew happiness from the journey he was on. He told in an interview with PinkVilla that the loss of his mother showed him the value of things he had undermined earlier.

At DCE (now DTU), he often skipped college to attend acting workshops with Barry and dance workshops with Shiamak Davar. Later on, he worked as an instructor at Shiamak’s dance academy. Some of his students remember him as a talented, kind, and protective older brother. Finally, he dropped out in the third year of university to pursue acting.

‘I left everything I had to become an actor.’

In her post, Kanika Dhillon explained Sushant’s “sheer hard-work and relentless focus” defined him as an actor. Whether it was competing for the National level Physics Olympiad or shooting his first film Kai Po Che! he gave it his all.

His best friend Mahesh Setty remembers him as the one with dreams in his eyes. Furthermore, he puts light on Rajput’s long nights of hard work behind the characters. The actor would put so much effort into his physical appearance for the roles. Once, a unit member mistook him as a helper on the set of Detective Byomkesh Bakshy. 

But there was an underside to his success as a Bollywood actor. There are many reasons to suspect that Sushant felt ostracized by the very industry he worked hard to get into and struggled with mental health. Reports tell that people in the film industry never invited him to parties and mocked him for his TV actor origins. We’ve always looked to Hollywood to find stories of corruption and mistreatment of rising actors. It turns out we don’t need to look far.

‘Things are difficult for outsiders in the industry, and it is very evident.’

And the more we hear about Sushant’s experiences as an outsider looking into the window of an exclusive, elite Bollywood club, the more we realize he’s not alone. Several Bollywood actors who have spoken about similar experiences prior to and following Sushant’s death.

Kangana Ranaut was shunned by many in the industry when she infamously called director Karan Johan the ‘flag-bearer of nepotism.’ Her incredibly honest feelings about Bollywood prioritizing ‘star kids’ over actors who don’t have any links in the industry were ridiculed. In fact, her feelings were ridiculed publicly in an IIFA awards ceremony, where actors were filmed laughing at the ‘joke.’ And this is not an isolated incident. 

‘I have no Godfather, I’ve made you all my Gods and fathers.’

From singer Arjit Singh given the cold-shoulder by Salman Khan for ’embarrassing him’ to Neil Nithin Mukesh being forced to play along with a joke that mocked him and Sushant himself being forced to awkwardly dance on stage by Shah Rukh Khan and Shahid Kapoor.

The notion of mazaak at the expense of lesser or newly established actors in Bollywood is disturbing and deeply reminiscent of the humiliation that takes place at the initiation ceremonies of college fraternities. Has Bollywood become a fraternity with a culture of toxicity? And if so, how many aspiring actors pay a price to be a part of this exclusive club?

“We should never forget the inevitable, as we will lose everything eventually. So why fret over any kind of security? The idea is to just fly and experience it all while it lasts.”

The answer is many. Ayushmann Khurrana recalled he was told by Dharma productions that they ‘only work with stars,’ and Taapsee Pannu has accepted that nepotism is ‘a rule of the game.’ Even actors with links in the industry have shared their struggles, with Vivek Oberoi recently sharing his ‘own journey of pain.’

Let’s not make excuses for mental health. It’s clear that Sushant was struggling with depression and had tried his very best to tackle his mental health problems. But let’s not make excuses for the callous ways in which Bollywood is responsible for the decline of its outsider actors – and not just physically.

‘I’m not lost, I’m very much alive.’

Prior to his death, Sushant shared a handwritten list of 50 dreams he aimed to fulfill. A few noteworthy ones were teaching women self-defense, learning how to fly a plane, and sending 100 kids for workshops in ISIDRO/NASA. He fulfilled 12 dreams on this list, leaving 38 of them unfulfilled. Here’s hoping that his list forever serves as a reminder to keep on dreaming, whatever the obstacle. 

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