The complex case of Bollywood star Sushant Singh Rajput’s death: 'A lesson in ending stigmas'

The life of the 'Chhichhore' actor has been put under the spotlight following a number of investigations launched after his death in June

In a 2017 profile of Sushant Singh Rajput, Forbes India called the Bollywood star "the confident craftsman", a nod to his tenacity.

Rajput's journey to fame began after he dropped out of engineering college in Delhi to become an actor in Mumbai. Then, just as his TV career was taking off, he quit that industry to focus on Bollywood films and went on to achieve a level of success few can only dream of.

But when Rajput was found dead in his Mumbai apartment on June 14 at the age of 34 — a case the police have ruled as suicide — it not only devastated millions of his fans, but gave his fairy-tale story a tragic twist.

Following news of his death, there have been a number of developments, while conspiracy theories have followed thick and fast. Fans have attacked Bollywood's bias against "outsiders", while Rajput's father has filed a case against the actor's girlfriend, Rhea Chakraborty.

Here are the latest twists and turns so far.

Why Bollywood is accused of bias

For many years, Bollywood has been locked in an "insider" versus "outsider" debate, with the latter claiming the industry is run by a group of film dynasties whose sole interest is promoting their own. The outspoken actress Kangana Ranaut, once one of the highest paid in Bollywood, has been the most vocal. Ranaut posted a video message in Hindi a day after Rajput's death, claiming he was a victim of nepotism.

Actor Ranvir Shorey also tweeted in July: "'The Gang' is essentially a mutually beneficial alliance of a few powerful, corrupt, crafty old men, and a few second generation younger producers who have inherited film empires. Their objective is to have control over the top of the pyramid and have pliable stars.”

Top producer Karan Johar, who is known for casting many children of Bollywood stars in his films, was one of the first to face a backlash online. Johar immediately went on a social media hiatus, returning on Saturday, August 15, to wish Indians a happy Independence Day.

A number of Bollywood personalities have since been called on by the Mumbai Police to record statements, including director and producer Sanjay Leela Bhansali, director Mahesh Bhatt, Yash Raj Films chairman Aditya Chopra, film critic Rajeev Masand and casting director Mukesh Chhabra. Ranaut has also been summoned by police.

Rajput’s father files case against girlfriend 

On July 28, Rajput's father, KK Singh, filed an FIR (First Information Report) in Patna, Bihar, against Chakraborty. He accused the actress, who was dating Rajput, and her family of abetment of suicide and stealing his money. Among his accusations was a claim that Rs150 million (Dh7.3m) was transferred from Rajput's bank account to an unknown account over the course of a year.

Bollywood actress Rhea Chakraborty (C) arrives at the Enforcement Directorate (ED) office within the scope of the investigation of the suicide case of Bollywood actor Sushant Singh Rajput, in Mumbai on August 7, 2020. India's top anti-crime agency is taking over the investigation into the death of movie star Sushant Singh Rajput, whose suicide has shaken Bollywood and sparked bitter recriminations. / AFP / -

Chakraborty has denied the accusations and filed her own FIR requesting the case be moved to Mumbai from Patna. She also said she’d been receiving rape and death threats on social media.

On Friday, August 14, the Enforcement Directorate (ED), a law enforcement agency tasked with investigating economic crimes, said that while Rs150m was withdrawn from Rajput’s account, no suspicious activities involving Chakraborty were discovered.

Rajput ran two companies along with Chakraborty and her brother Showik, according to the Mumbai Mirror.

How politicians got involved 

With elections due in Bihar, Rajput’s home state, later this year, it was only a matter of time before politicians waded in.

While Rajput’s death in Mumbai would normally come under the jurisdiction of the state of Maharashtra, because his father filed an FIR in Bihar, means there’s been mud-slinging from both states, ruled by political rivals.

A team of police from Patna who travelled to Mumbai to carry out their own investigation were put under mandatory home quarantine by authorities, prompting an outcry from politicians in Bihar who demanded the investigation be handed to the federal agency, the Central Bureau of Investigation.

Bihar’s ruling party Janata Dal (United) is a close ally of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party, a rival of Maharashtra’s ruling Shiv Sena party.

India's Supreme Court has rejected multiple appeals for the case to be taken over by the CBI. "Let the police do its job," it said in a July 30 ruling.

Why his therapist spoke out

On August 1, Rajput's therapist Susan Walker told journalist Barkha Dutt that she decided to breach client confidentiality "given the reckless media coverage around mental health and the lynch mobs unleashing hate on social media", adding that the actor had bipolar disorder.

"Symptoms can include severe anxiety,” she said, adding that Rajput was “suffering terribly during bouts of depression and hypomania".

Walker, who said she started meeting Rajput in November last year, added that Chakraborty gave Sushant the courage to attend sessions. "The treatment that Rhea has received on social media is deeply shocking to me," she said.

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The treatment that Rhea Chakraborty has received on social media is deeply shocking to me

In their investigation, Mumbai Police said Rajput searched three items on the internet repeatedly in the week preceding his death: his own name in news reports, the name of his former manager Disha Salian, who had committed suicide the previous week, and information about mental health, an officer told The Indian Express.

The police also recorded the statements of three psychiatrists and one psychotherapist last month, who confirmed that Rajput had consulted them for treatment.

"Sushant’s sad and untimely death needs to be yet another lesson for us all in ending shame and stigma around mental illness,” said Walker.