One year after actor Sushant Singh Rajput's death shook Bollywood, India's federal investigative agency is yet to give its verdict on the case.
The Central Bureau of Investigation, which was tasked to take over from Mumbai Police in August 2020, following a request by Rajput's family, has stayed mostly silent. It only put out a statement last October to address reports it was concluding its inquiry as "speculative and erroneous".
Rajput, one of Bollywood's biggest rising stars, was found dead in his Mumbai apartment on June 14 at the age of 34. While the Mumbai Police ruled his death as suicide, the news triggered heated debate on prime time news channels and conspiracy theories on social media.
That the news of his death broke during the first coronavirus-imposed lockdowns in India last year, only added salacious gossip to the otherwise inspiring life of a college dropout-turned-actor who found success in an industry often accused of being insular and run by several families.
Rajput was well known for his humility and his unassuming attitude towards fame – qualities his friends say they prefer to remember him by.
"He never carried himself as a celebrity. He was so nonchalant about the whole fame thing," menswear designer Varoin Marwah tells The National.
“He never compared himself with other actors. He knew he was talented and he knew he was hardworking and he knew he wanted to prove himself. I could always feel that confidence.
“That’s why I don’t believe it when people say he was depressed with work.”
Marwah, who launched his eponymous label in Dubai eight years ago, says he first met Rajput at a New Year’s Eve party in the emirate in 2014.
"I was early at the party when this man approached my table and asked if he could join with his girlfriend,” he recalls. “He introduced himself as Sushant and his [then] girlfriend Ankita and we started talking.
"He was already in his look for the Dhoni film with the long hair and I didn't recognise him at first. Then when it dawned on me and I realised it was Sushant Singh Rajput. We had a good laugh and immediately got along."
Rajput's 2016 film MS Dhoni: The Untold Story, based on the former Indian cricket captain, was a commercial and critical success. It would be one of many hits Rajput delivered in his short career, from Kai Po Che! to Shuddh Desi Romance and PK.
Marwah says he and Rajput kept in touch and would visit each other often in Dubai and Mumbai, where Marwah's parents also live.
“I had a birthday party in Mumbai in 2015 and he went all out. He came early from a shoot and although he was tired, rocked the party. He mingled with everyone and was the life of the party,” Marwah recalls.
“And he would visit Dubai often. Whenever he was in town, he would never ask me where I was taking him, or who else was coming. He’d just come and be friends with everyone.
“Also, he never hesitated to pull out his wallet and often took care of the bill, unlike other actors who like to use their status to get free things.”
Rajput even filmed a promotional video for Dubai Tourism in 2017, highlighting the city’s thrill-seeking activities, from paragliding to car-racing and dune-bashing.
A photo, in which he replicates the signature pose of superstar Shah Rukh Khan, in Dubai, even got a vote of approval from the actor himself.
“The hair, the hands, the pose all was perfect. 10/10 awesome!!” Khan responded to Rajput.
He was the biggest fan of Khan, Marwah says. “He had a separate TV and library room where we used to have the most fun, playing old Bollywood songs and recreating dance moves. If he had the choice, he would play Shah Rukh songs all night,” says Marwah.
“That’s why he was so happy to do the Dubai Tourism campaign, because Shah Rukh is the brand ambassador.”
He was also always respectful to whoever he worked with no matter who they were, says Marwah.
That quality is echoed by photographer Rajesh Raghav who photographed Rajput in Dubai in 2016.
“We were shooting him at an event where he was performing. We only had about 15 minutes with him before he had to go for a performance,” Raghav recalls. “As luck would have it, just as I was rushing, my lights stopped working.
“I was panicking. He asked to look at the shots I’ve got so far and said, ‘OK, I understand. I promise I’m going to come back for you after the performance and we can do this again. Don’t worry, we will make it work.’
“I seriously didn’t think he was going to come back. But he came after his performance and looked for me. I could see he was already tired but he politely sat through the shoot and we finished it.
“I’ve worked with many celebrities from Hollywood to Bollywood and I don’t think anyone would have done what he did. I really admired him for that,” Raghav says.
“All my other photographer friends who work in the film industry only have nice things to say about him.”
Lekha Menon, the former editor of a UAE Bollywood and lifestyle magazine, whose event Raghav was shooting at, says Rajput’s lack of ego and pretence was refreshing.
“What I remember the most about him was his energy. He possessed a certain eagerness to please, which I thought was very charming,” Menon says. “Needless to say, he was a livewire on stage and brought the audience to their feet.
“Usually stars have their guards on at public events but Sushant was easy-going and mingled with the guests and accommodated all our requests. I guess he was still the small-town guy who was extremely grounded despite the star trappings around him.”
That's classic Rajput, Marwah says. "The real Shushant was full of life, the smallest things would excite him, like a nice meal or good music and a good conversation," he says.
“He was also into science and philosophy and would quote poems and authors no one had heard of.
“That’s why it’s so sad that people now are focusing on everything else but the most important qualities he had and the beautiful person that he was,” says Marwah. “People should give him the closure and the respect he deserves.”
Anticipating the media circus ahead of the anniversary of his death, Rajput's sister Shweta Singh Kirti has said she is going on a solitary retreat "in the mountains".
"I won't have access to internet or cell services there," she posted on Instagram. "Bhai's [brother's] one year of passing on will be spent in cherishing his sweet memories in silence. Though his physical body has left us almost a year back, the values he stood for still live on."
Last week, Bollywood actress Kriti Sanon, who starred with Rajput in the 2017 film Raabta, posted behind-the-scenes snippets from the movie's sets.
"Raabta was one of my best and most memorable experiences and it will always remain extremely close to my heart. Little did I know that it would be our first and last," Sanon wrote.
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