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Actor’s death fuels nepotism debate

NEW DELHI, July 26, (AP): The entertainment capital of India may be reeling under the coronavirus onslaught, but its celebrity inhabitants are being roiled by troubles of another kind.

In this May 30, 2017 fi le photo, Bollywood actors Sushant Singh Rajput (left), and Kriti Sanon pose for photographs during a press conference to promote their upcoming movie ‘Raabta’ in Ahmadabad, India. (AP)

The suicide last month of a young and popular movie actor in Mumbai has fueled a reckoning over the privileges of the Bollywood elite, laying bare the simmering fault lines between the haves and have-nots of the Hindi-language movie industry. “Dil Bechara”, or “Helpless Heart”, Sushant Singh Rajput’s final movie, was released Friday on the Disney+ Hotstar streaming platform, six weeks after the 34-year-old was found dead in his apartment.

Directed by Mukesh Chhabra, the film is a Hindilanguage remake of the teen romance “The Fault in Our Stars”, based on John Green’s bestseller that was adapted into a 2014 Hollywood movie. “We are going to love and celebrate you my friend. I can visualise you with your beautiful smile blessing us from up above,” Chhabra tweeted last month.

Never has the release of a Bollywood movie been so steeped in tragedy, and so surrounded by grief. “Watching him, it is hard to believe he was hiding so much pain beneath that lovable smile. Just hope the truth comes out,” said Travel writer and author Shubhra Krishan. Mumbai police are still investigating the circumstances of Rajput’s June 14 death, which they have ruled a suicide. A rancorous debate around what pushed him to take his life has a bevy of angry actors and filmmakers facing off on social media.

In the mix are allegations of nepotism against familyrun production studios, easy movie debuts for star kids and denial of equal opportunity to talented “outsiders”. Rajput, an engineering student who grew up in the northern state of Bihar, was the quintessential outsider who managed to force open the doors of Bollywood to craft a brief but successful acting career. Replying to an Instagram post last year, he asked his fans to watch his films because he needed their help to “survive in Bollywood”.

National Film Award-winning actress Kangana Ranaut, in widely shared social media posts, has accused the powerful Bollywood studio owners, infl uential filmmakers and movie critics of pushing Rajput over the edge by their alleged lack of support for the actor. “Movie mafia not only banned him, but I can tell you how his mind was systematically dismantled, bit by bit,” Ranaut said in a widely viewed Instagram video.

Many others have vented their anger online, demanding a federal inquiry into Rajput’s death. The frenzied discourse has brought into the spotlight the entrenched inequality in the power structure and culture of one of India’s most hallowed institutions.

Mumbai is the city of dreams for millions of aspiring actors, but not many make it big in Bollywood. After endless auditions, most dreamers crash-land into the overfl owing, super-competitive pool of talent and settle for whatever comes their way.

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