Despite Crises, India Fixes Its Gaze on a Bollywood Tragedy

NEW DELHI — A rising younger film star meets a tragic finish. His household blames his dying on his glamorous girlfriend. As she sits in jail, her associates proclaiming her innocence, the police trace at a shadowy community of cash laundering and unlawful medicine deep throughout the world of present enterprise.

India has been captivated by the story of Sushant Singh Rajput, a 34-year-old actor whose dying has been dominated a suicide by the police in Mumbai. News shops have targeted on each twist in a story that for a lot of encapsulates Bollywood’s hypocrisy and elitism.

Three federal companies are investigating whether or not his girlfriend, the actress Rhea Chakraborty, gave him marijuana and was concerned in Bollywood drug dealing and cash laundering. The police are interviewing different Bollywood actresses. Ms. Chakraborty’s legal professional mentioned the police had discovered no proof to help their allegations.

The scandal has puzzled and infuriated social critics. With laborious proof missing, they are saying, the investigation and protection look like fueled by institutional misogyny, a taboo in opposition to dialogue of psychological well being points and an more and more partisan information media.

The investigation has turn out to be an election problem in Mr. Rajput’s residence state of Bihar, which is managed by an ally of Mr. Modi. The state’s chief minister, Nitish Kumar, has criticized the police in Mumbai, which is managed by a rival coalition, and he has promised Bihar voters, who go to the polls within the coming weeks, that he would uncover the reality behind Mr. Rajput’s dying.

Still, even many shops important of Mr. Modi couldn’t resist the story.

“I think it suits the government to use news television as a weapon of mass distraction,” mentioned Vir Sanghvi, a journalist, talk-show host and media critic. Nevertheless, he added, excessive rankings “show that there is a great hunger for this kind of news among viewers.”

India is hardly alone in turning to superstar information to distract from real-world issues. For many Indians, Mr. Rajput’s story additionally faucets into a rising sense of anti-elitism. Many consider he was pushed to suicide by a clubby tradition of Bollywood insiders. Bihar is one in every of India’s poorer states, they usually see Mr. Rajput as a uncommon outsider who broke into the trade however was held again from even larger stardom.

“The condition of the economy due to the coronavirus or other issues is in front of all of us,” mentioned Jaya Mukherjee, a 28-year-old college counselor in Delhi who has adopted the developments. “We are tense, but we can’t avoid injustice, which happened to Sushant.”

Others consider Mr. Rajput didn’t commit suicide. The federal police, who’ve taken over the investigation from the Mumbai authorities, haven’t dominated out different conclusions.

Mr. Rajput, a versatile actor with an easy smile and chiseled chin, appeared in soap operas before winning a role in the 2013 dramatic film “Kai Po Che!” His performance as a gifted but troubled cricketer earned him a nomination for the Filmfare award, Bollywood’s most prestigious prize, for best male actor debut.

He then went on to star in films like “Shuddh Desi Romance,” “MS Dhoni” and “Kedarnath,” several of which were commercial and critical successes. He cultivated an image as a wholesome boy-next-door from Bihar.

Mr. Rajput was found dead in his Mumbai apartment on June 14. The Mumbai police listed the cause of death as asphyxia by hanging.

Online, disbelieving fans blamed Bollywood studios. Kangana Ranaut, a popular actress, helped put the industry under a spotlight with a video released the day after Mr. Rajput’s death that disputed the idea that he had been depressed, even as it accused studio bigwigs of driving him to suicide. Ms. Ranaut is a high-profile supporter of Mr. Modi, and her criticism helped galvanize his supporters to press for answers.

Mr. Rajput’s death also sent ripples through the news media. The Bharatiya Janata Party, which Mr. Modi leads, has sought to influence and cajole India’s traditionally cacophonous newspapers and broadcasters. Though the government has sometimes shut down outlets critical of its policies, it also uses more subtle ways to direct coverage, like granting or withdrawing government advertising money.

Stories about Mr. Rajput nosed out headlines about spreading infections or shuttered shops and factories. The result was ratings gold: Republic Bharat, a new broadcast outlet often sympathetic to Mr. Modi’s party, surged to the top of the Hindi-language news ratings in August. Its editors did not respond to requests for comment.

“She was unable to work, to socialize, because she felt that she needed to be with him and look after him,” said one friend, Shibani Dandekar, a singer and actress. “The vicious media trial hasn’t even given her a chance to grieve for him.”

Ms. Chakraborty was arrested last month on suspicion of buying and supplying marijuana to Mr. Rajput as well as financing illicit traffic, a nonbailable offense.

Satish Maneshinde, Ms. Chakraborty’s lawyer, said that no drugs had been found in her possession and that the police lacked evidence. The police have 180 days to file charges.

Some lawyers and women’s groups have come to Ms. Chakraborty’s defense, saying that female defendants often face hostile reactions when their cases become media sensations.

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