The death of Bollywood actor Sushant Singh Rajput at only 34 has sent shockwaves across the Indian entertainment industry.
As many fans grapple with seeing a star they admired die at such a young age, serious conversations about both mental health and nepotism have begun across the country.
The latter has meant hashtags such as #JusticeForSushantSinghRajput, #BoycottNepotism, #BoycottKhans and most recently #SupportSelfMadeSRK are trending.
“Support self-made SRK” refers to Shah Rukh Khan, one of the few Khans of Bollywood who doesn’t come from a famous family. His father was a modestly successful businessman and his mother a social worker.
Sushant Singh Rajput also made his own way in the film industry. He was born in Patna, Bihar, and his parents had no Bollywood connections. There was no uncle or mother or brother to help him get a leg up in the industry, and the conversation about nepotism started almost immediately after the actor’s death on Sunday, June 14.
Fans have called out the hypocrisy of A-list actors such as Alia Bhatt and Karan Johar who publicly dismissed the actor in his lifetime but made posts expressing shock at his death.
Bhatt’s tweet read: “I’m in a deep state of shock. No matter how much I think about it, I don’t have the words. I’m totally devastated. You’ve left us too soon. You will be missed by each and every one of us. My deepest condolences to Sushant’s family, loved ones, and his fans.”
Karan Johar tweeted: “This is heartbreaking … I have such strong memories of the times we have shared … I can’t believe this … Rest in peace my friend … when the shock subsides only the best memories will remain.”
But fans of the actor were quick to point out that in a previous episode of Johar's television show Koffee with Karan, Bhatt had been asked to rate three male celebrities, including Rajput, with her reply being "Sushant Singh Rajput, who?"
Meanwhile, Maharashtra Home Minister Anil Deshmukh, on Twitter, suggested that Rajput’s mental health had been seriously harmed by “professional rivalry”.
This is why social media posts such as #JusticeforSushantSinghRajput, #BoycottKaranJohar and #BoycottNepotism started to appear, as fans of the actor blamed Bollywood’s nepotism culture for Rajput’s state of mind.
Many believed that because Rajput hailed from a middle-class Indian family, and made it in the industry without connections, he was shunned by Bollywood’s A-list stars, considered an outsider, and did not grant him access to as many big projects.
The incident has since sparked a fierce debate, with some people arguing for the boycott of the films of Bollywood A-listers from famous families, specifically Karan Johar, Alia Bhatt, Kareena Kapoor Khan, Salman Khan and Sonam Kapoor Ahuja. To counter, fans of Shah Rukh Khan started tweeting under the hashtag #SupportSelfMadeSRK to support the actor, whose star is considered to have risen with no helping hand.
‘They will drop you and mock you’
Big-ticket Bollywood stars including Ranvir Shorey, Taapsee Pannu, Kangana Ranaut and Raveena Tandon weighed in on the debate, as did directors Shekhar Kapur and Hansal Mehta.
They indicated they believed that nepotism in the industry, and the culture it creates, was to blame for some of Rajput’s distress.
Meanwhile, many A-listers who have family connections in the industry have stood their ground, arguing that Rajput’s death cannot be blamed on nepotism alone, and calling on social media for more positivity and understanding.
Sonam Kapoor Ahuja, whose father is the Indian actor Anil Kapoor, shared some of the vitriol she had received online.
She also put up a post for Father’s Day, acknowledging her privilege, while saying Kapoor worked hard and she was proud to be his daughter.