‘No. You can’t do that. We won’t let you go to Bollywood…’
This is the standard reaction of small town, middle class parents whenever their child expresses his or her desire to join the film industry.
Why is this a standard response to a young person’s desire to be creative? To express? To connect emotionally with the world?
Because the film industry has no job ‘security’. It is highly competitive. It means unnecessary struggle. It means disproportionate success. It means unrealistic failure. It means unbearable humiliation. It means heartbreak. It means addiction. It means compromise. It means surrender. It means losing self-esteem. It means depression. It may also mean, perhaps, suicide.
Sushant Singh Rajput personified it.
That’s why Indian parents don’t want their children to join the film industry which can make you a star overnight. Or make you a statistic in the register of the death registrar. Just overnight.
Sushant Singh Rajput proved it right.
This is why parents don’t want their children to join the film industry. They are afraid of losing their child: either to the maddening, unreal world of success, or to near-death like existence of drugs and addiction, or to death.
I never had the guts to tell my parents that I wanted to be a filmmaker. I had to take a very long route to finally arrive here.
It is not easy to arrive here. Your first battle is to fight or rebel with your parents. Or lie to them and reach here on the pretext of studying or a taking up job which you never want to do. Or just run away.
‘If Shah Rukh Khan can make it, why can’t I?’ This is the only capital on which one leaves behind upset parents to embrace a world of inhuman competition.
What we don’t know is that Shah Rukh Khan wasn’t really an outsider. He was a fairly moneyed kid who flew to Mumbai and lived with an extremely successful director Aziz Mirza in posh Carter Road area of Mumbai. He was from Columbus School, did English plays and came with a reputation of Fauji, a successful television serial. He was one of them: in background, lifestyle, thinking and worldview.
The outsider is the one who can’t speak English fluently, has no ‘fashion sense’ or even the money to buy it. But he has talent and ideas. An outsider is someone who knows the soil of India but is not ‘cool’ enough to be entertained by filmmakers who survive on the ticket money of the people of the soil.
An outsider is the one who is a real ‘gully boy’, but can’t enter the party of Gully Boys.
From Mira Road to Malad, Mumbai is full of such outsiders, wanting to become Shah Rukh Khan. Whenever a Sushant succeeds, their hope rekindles and the plan to go back gets postponed by few more years.
Sushant’s suicide has shattered them. Some part within them has died. In the last two days I have spoken to over a dozen such outside assistants and aspiring actors on the verge of going down the hill of depression.
‘Should I go back?,’ one actor asked me looking at me through the video camera.
‘No. You must not. You haven’t come thus far to go back,’ I replied.
‘Papa was right…,’ said another one.
‘Time will tell. You were right. Just hold on,’ I told him.
‘I am not Sushant. I wont end my life but I’ll take some of these nepotists down who asked me to…,’ and he broke down.
‘You must prove them wrong... with your work. Look at me... if I can survive and succeed... so can you.... ,’ by now even I was breaking down.
One actor asked me, ‘Sir, why is it so difficult to survive in Bollywood?’
I had no reply. It set me thinking.
After all, what is Bollywood?
Bollywood is neither an industry nor a corporate house. It’s a jungle of ambition where every one wants to grow taller than the other. But a forest becomes a forest only when all trees grow and flourish together. Every tree helping other trees for the growth of the entire forest.
Every tree, bush, grass blade, insect is crucial to the growth of the ecology. Without such mutual collaboration there can’t be any forest.
Bollywood, despite amazing trees, could never become a wonderful forest. Because these are cannibal trees. They are ‘strangler trees’. They suck you from the roots, suck all your water, mineral and grow tall and produce big flowers. Nobody knows that the dead tree next to it was killed by this gigantic tree.
Bollywood is a deadly forest, full of cannibal, strangler and parasite kind of trees.
Always hunting for tender, delicate, weaker trees to suck their juices and destroy them. Trees that learn from them, let them suck and in turn suck from other smaller trees, survive. Those who want to maintain their identity, die.
Sushant was one of those tender trees.
That’s why Bollywood could never become a forest. At best, a group of strangler trees survive because millions of other tender, beautiful trees are ready to surrender to their appetite. Whoever sits in their shadow, dies.
I also wandered in this forest of cannibals briefly but before I could die, I moved to barren land. I grew slowly but nurtured other smaller vines, butterflies, bees. Now I have a small garden of beautiful plants. Flowering each day.
You can decide where you want to belong. Sushant made a choice. A wrong one, unfortunately, because there was no one to tell him ‘always keep a tree in your heart, birds will come’.
Vivek Ranjan Agnihotri is an award winning film director and a bestselling author. He tweets at @vivekagnihotri