Curiously, Kangana, who has never worked with Sushant and was not in his close friends’ circle, has been the most vocal about the suicide.

Collage of Kangana Ranaut and Sushant Singh Rajput both dressed in black
Flix Bollywood Wednesday, July 22, 2020 - 17:54

Over a month since actor Sushant Singh Rajput took his life in his Bandra home in Mumbai, the controversy regarding his death has snowballed into nothing short of a war in Bollywood. Curiously, actor Kangana Ranaut, who has never worked with Sushant and was not in his close friends’ circle, has been the most vocal about the suicide.

Kangana, who on Koffee With Karan famously slammed Karan Johar for promoting nepotism in Bollywood, has been leading a campaign against 'unfair practices' in the film industry. Though the actor does not have a handle of her own on Twitter, and her sister and manager Rangoli Chandel's account was deactivated on the social media platform for communal remarks, her views are being posted by a 'fan' account called Team Kangana Ranaut (@KanganaTeam). Kangana has also been making videos about her views on Sushant's suicide, which she squarely blames on nepotism in Bollywood.

She has gone as far as to say that she will return her Padma Shri if she is unable to prove her allegations.

Not a new fight

Although Kangana's intentions to make the film industry more equal may appear to be noble, there are several people who have raised questions on how she's going about it. The actor's fans on social media have not only been making derogatory remarks on star kids like Alia Bhatt (with whom Kangana had a spat over Manikarnika being sidelined in favour of Gully Boy), they have also been going after actors like Taapsee Pannu and Swara Bhasker.

Kangana had referred to the two women, who do not have godfathers in the industry, as 'B-grade actresses', and asked why they were not getting films while star kids like Alia who were not "as talented" were able to do so. She has also labelled them as "chaploos" (sycophants) for not agreeing with her. She has claimed that Taapsee, Swara and Richa Chadha, all of them outsiders to the industrty, were not speaking up because they cared more about "personal gains". Attacking these actors who have made it on their own, Kangana seems to believe, is the best way to break nepotism in the industry.

But none of this ought to come as a surprise. Even before this, the Kangana faction has gone after Taapsee and Swara. For instance, when Taapsee tweeted in appreciation of the trailer of Judgementall Hai Kya, Rangoli took offence at her for not mentioning Kangana in her tweet. She also said that Taapsee was trying to be a 'sasti copy' of Kangana. Director Anurag Kashyap tried to intervene but to no avail.

And the fracas is not just over Bollywood but also politics.

Kangana and her sister Rangoli have been vocal supporters of the BJP government at the Centre. While Taapsee, Richa and Swara have been critical of communal narratives and also lent their voices to the anti-CAA protests, Kangana and her sister have sided with the government. When Rangoli's Islamophobic tweets over the Tabligi Jamaat led to her account being suspended, Kangana defended her sister and said that the government should 'demolish' Twitter.

During the anti-CAA protests, directors like Anurag Kashyap and Anubhav Sinha who have been consistently critical of the government, engaged in arguments with the Kangana faction on Twitter. Anubhav Sinha openly criticised Kangana's statement that since 'only 3-4% of people in India pay taxes', they had no right to damage public property.

On Wednesday, fed up with the endless allegations and arguments triggered by Sushant's death, Anubhav declared that he was "resigning" from Bollywood.

Others in the mayhem

On Tuesday, author Chetan Bhagat jumped into the bandwagon by 'cautioning' film critics about reviewing Sushant Singh's upcoming release Dil Bechara on Disney+Hotstar.

"Sushant's last film releases this week. I want to tell the snob and elitist critics right now, write sensibly. Don't act oversmart. Don't write rubbish. Be fair and sensible. Don't try your dirty tricks. You have ruined enough lives. Now stop. We'll be watching," he wrote.

When senior film journalist Anupama Chopra of Film Companion objected to the tweet (as did several other critics and journalists), Chetan said that he was nearly driven to suicide by her husband, filmmaker Vidhu Vinod Chopra, who produced Three Idiots. The film is based on Chetan's Five Point Someone but there was a huge controversy at the time because he was not properly credited for his work.

Vidhu was recently embroiled in another controversy regarding his film Shikara, which is on the exodus of Kasmiri Pandits. He was accused of 'whitewashing' the violence unleashed on Hindus by Islamic fanatics. At the time, Rangoli and Kangana's fans on Twitter had taken several digs at the filmmaker.

Film critic Rajeev Masand is also in the eye of the storm, and was in fact questioned by the Mumbai police on Tuesday for "giving negative ratings" to Sushant's films. He was among the four people that Kangana had said should be questioned by the police in an interview with Arnab Goswami on Republic TV. The other three she mentioned were Aditya Chopra, Mahesh Bhatt (Alia's father who also produced Kangana's first film) and Karan Johar.

Team Kangana, meanwhile, has been tweeting the blinds and negative stories that Rajeev Masand wrote about Sushant Singh Rajput. They have also been going after critics like Anna Vetticad for supporting Taapsee and Swara.

Old videos do the rounds

Those who have taken a stance against Kangana and her methods, even as they acknowledge that Bollywood could do with some cleaning-up, have been posting old videos of the actor where she expresses gratitude towards Mahesh Bhatt for launching her, and also denies that nepotism is a problem in the film industry.

While Team Kangana retweeted a video of Anna Vetticad asking Kangana about getting lip fillers, the critic shot back with another clip from the same interview where Kangana said she did not mind the privilege enjoyed by star kids since she herself comes from a privileged background which might have helped her in other fields. She also posted screenshots of the abuse, many of them communal slurs, that were thrown at her. 

Taapsee also pointed out that when actor Jiah Khan took her life in 2013 and Sooraj Pancholi was blamed for it, Kangana had said that 'depression is a disease' and that such a drastic step could have been triggered by 'anything'. Kangana was in a long relationship with Sooraj's father Aditya Pancholi previously.

Where is Sushant in all this?

It is possible that Kangana may have changed her views from back then, but it is not clear how she plans to dismantle power structures in Bollywood while trampling upon the people on whose behalf she's supposedly speaking.

Sushant did not leave behind a suicide note. The actor was supposedly dealing with mental health issues -- whether those were triggered by nepotism and the other work-related issues in Bollywood or something else, is to be investigated. There are, after all, several successful people who have been depressed and have even taken their own life while being at the peak of their careers too.

Sushant's best friend, publicist Rohini Iyer, had, in fact, said in a social media post published last month that "peddlers" were pushing their own "agendas" using his death. She did not take any names but looking at the innumerable spin-offs triggered by his death, it's difficult not to wonder if his suicide isn't being used to settle old scores and push a certain narrative.

There is no denying that Bollywood, like other film industries, can be an unfair place and people within the industry and outside of it must voice out against injustice. But, it's also important to ask if that's indeed what's happening here?

If you are aware of anyone facing mental health issues or feeling suicidal, please provide help. Here are some helpline numbers of suicide-prevention organisations that can offer emotional support to individuals and families.

Tamil Nadu

State health department's suicide helpline: 104
Sneha Suicide Prevention Centre - 044-24640050 (listed as the sole suicide prevention helpline in Tamil Nadu)

Andhra Pradesh

Life Suicide Prevention: 78930 78930
Roshni: 9166202000, 9127848584

Karnataka

Sahai (24-hour): 080 65000111, 080 65000222

Kerala

Maithri: 0484 2540530
Chaithram: 0484 2361161
Both are 24-hour helpline numbers.

Telangana

State government's suicide prevention (tollfree): 104
Roshni: 040 66202000, 6620200
SEVA: 09441778290, 040 27504682 (between 9 am and 7 pm)

Aasara offers support to individuals and families during an emotional crisis, for those dealing with mental health issues and suicidal ideation, and to those undergoing trauma after the suicide of a loved one. 
24x7 Helpline: 9820466726 

Click here for working helplines across India.

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