An actor killed himself a month ago and ever since the media and sundry celebrities — many of whom had just a passing association with him — have been doing a dance of death that shows no sign of stopping.
By the evening of the day Sushant Singh Rajput’s body was discovered in his house, TV news channels had already declared that he was suffering from clinical depression, lined up socialites, authors and starlets in their studio, and sent reporters and camera crews to Rajput’s home in Bihar, to shove their mikes into his uncle’s and father’s faces to ask how they felt upon hearing the news of his suicide. These were the same channels that had taken over a month to pull together a crew to cover the migrant exodus to towns across Bihar.
But there’s nothing like a celebrity’s death, that too an untimely one, to spur our TV channels into action. Both Joseph Pulitzer and Carl Jung would have been impressed with their speed of deciding the day’s headlines and diagnosing Rajput’s psychological condition – and by the number of anchors who seem to be experts in clinical and situational depression. The only problem is that while comment is free, it is not always enlightening.
The nail in the coffin on what has passed for reportage on Rajput’s death was of course struck by that high priest of journalism, Arnab Goswami, a few days back. A month after Rajput’s death, Goswami, editor-in-chief of Republic TV, decided the nation wanted to know actor Kangana Ranaut’s views on Rajput’s death, in an hour-long special.
Keep in mind that while this soliloquy was taking up primetime news, Assam was reeling from devastating floods. Scores of humans and animals had died, people had been rendered homeless. It stood to reason that a news channel should spend primetime asking why state and central governments had not come up with a timely disaster relief plan for Assam during the monsoons.
But when you are Arnab Goswami, why would you care about poor Assamese people and helpless animals dying? You would rather chat with an actress and while away an hour. The only compliment I can give Goswami is that he has shown no bias towards his home state, only towards sensationalism. So full points for focus.
I had not thought it possible for us to reach lower depths in journalism and speculation on this subject, but I should have known better.
Let’s get to a few firsts, first.
Goswami’s show started with a disclaimer: that no animals, brain cells, or finer sensibilities were hurt during the making of the show. Okay, I kid. A disclaimer informed us that the views of the interviewee were his own and the channel did not subscribe, agree or endorse them! Not the kind of disclaimer that fills you with confidence in what is to follow. And not one I have seen on a news channel ever.
The second first was that it might well have been the first time Goswami allowed another person to speak uninterrupted, taking up 80 percent of the time of the show.
So, why was Kangana being interviewed about Rajput’s death? Is she a relative? A friend? An investigating officer? An ex-colleague? No. She was asked because she seems to hold strong views about Rajput, and there’s nothing like a Bollywood star who will make incendiary remarks to ensure eyeballs for your news channel.
Why was Ranaut invited for an hour-long monologue? Mainly because she has said she knew the “murder gang” that was responsible for Rajput’s death. A claim she retracted during the interview and qualified as meaning people who criticised the late actor. In the 50 minutes or so that she spoke, what did we learn?
That she thinks the game – Love, Marry, Kill – actually means you will literally kill the person you name. Which is why when Goswami mentions Alia Bhatt's remarks on Johar's show, Ranaut says, “She [Alia Bhatt] said he [Rajput] should be killed,” as did other guests on Karan Johar’s show Koffee With Karan. She also said Mahesh Bhatt had almost assaulted her – which she should file an FIR in regard to if it is true. She claimed she was almost pushed to kill herself, but then clarified that she thought suicide was the same as thinking of shaving her “head” and disappearing. Neither of which she did, to be clear. That she seems to be privy to a lot of conversations she couldn’t possibly know of unless she has tapped Yash Raj studios. That no one is marrying her because of Johar criticising her (she repeated this a few times). Which made me wish that she’d look up Sima Aunty from Indian Matchmaking, who can find anyone a match as we have found out.
Now, to be fair to Ranaut, everyone knows there is a clique in Bollywood. An insider’s club is present – and star children always get a foot in the door, and producers and directors like Karan Johar and Aditya Chopra can make or break careers. It is also known that there are what are called “camps” in Bollywood – so there’s the Salman camp, the SRK camp, etc. And if you rub the right person up the wrong way, you can find yourself up shit creek without a paddle in Bollywood. So, there is a lot of truth to the nepotism claims. And there are “blind” items written in the entertainment columns that make unsubstantiated aspersions against various celebrities without naming them.
But did Rajput die because of nepotism and can someone be held directly responsible for his death, on the grounds of abetment to suicide, in the absence of a suicide note or concrete proof? I think not. And for people like Ranaut to don the mantle of judge and jury, and try and embody The No 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency while doing so, is plain repulsive. To use a man’s suicide to settle personal scores is even more vile.
For Goswami to allow her to voice her ramblings, which were so disjointed both in thought and in sentence construction that it reminded me of Marlon Brando in his last few days – without the fame or friends – is reprehensible. But then, this is Republic TV, which every evening has various people shouting at each other or at Goswami or at the audience. And Ranaut simply needs an arena to start spewing her accusations, even if they are baseless, and Goswami kindly provided her with the arena to do so.
What I did learn, though, is that Ranaut seems to think Bollywood audiences have Stockholm Syndrome and that the term refers to a love for foreign people (I assume because Stockholm is a foreign city and, thus, representative of all things foreign).
So, while we can’t claim to have learnt anything about Rajput’s life or why Ranaut should wax eloquent about it, we did learn that little knowledge is a dangerous thing. And that Republic TV will always remain a banana republic where the mad simian king is running the show – we should just be glad that unlike most angry simians, he can only figuratively throw his feces at us.
The only thing that has been murdered in this entire saga and tragedy is propriety and journalism. Long live journalism, journalism is dead.
UPDATE: The piece has been updated to more accurately reflect what Kangana Ranaut said when Arnab Goswami asked her about Alia Bhatt's remarks.
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