'How low we have stooped in our discourse’: Richa Chadha on nepotism, change and Sushant Singh Rajput
The actor reflects on the ongoing debate surrounding Sushant’s suicide
Actor Richa Chadha has penned a blog post on her friend Sushant Singh Rajput and the nepotism debate surrounding his death. Sushant died by suicide at his Mumbai home in June. He was 34.
Richa begins her post by quoting Sahir Ludhianvi’s lyrics from Pyaasa (1957). She writes that there’s been much talk about nepotism lately, but little about the effects on a person’s mental health. “All this in the wake of a suicide by a beautiful actor who happened to be an old friend,” she writes.
The actor reasons that instead of the ‘insider-outsider’ binary, the film industry is divided between kind and unkind people.
“The spectrum of unkind begins at mild displeasure, thieving, and at its worst, at the underbelly-level, manifests as a desire for sociopathic retribution,” she writes. “But if one’s lucky, kindness too is expressed in a straightforward manner. Genuine people tend to gravitate towards one another and often make lifelong bonds.”
In her assessment, Richa feels the industry works like a food chain, with every person bearing down on their subordinates. “You hate your bully for not being ethical with you, while bullying someone working under you as though it is a rite of passage for them. This is an acceptable MO in this dog-eat-dog world.”
On the issues of nepotism, Richa says it's ‘hateful and nonsensical’ to expect people to be ashamed of their own legacy. “I am a self-made person in this business. Will you tell my children to be ashamed of my struggle to reach where I have, for instance?” she writes, noting that star kids too have to deal with rivalries and hierarchies.
At the same time, the experience of an outsider is never the same, Richa agrees.
“This takes me back a decade or so. Sushant and I started out by workshopping together in a theatre group. I was sharing a 700 sq ft apartment in Andheri West with a friend from Delhi. Sushant would pick me up on his bike and we would head to the rehearsal, for which I was grateful. I wasn’t poor or broke. But I can’t say money was not a consideration when I had to head out to do an ad audition for a skin brand. I would worry about my make up melting in the auto rickshaw before I even arrived. This would NEVER happen with a ‘star-kid’, and if it does, they will be lauded for being humble enough to take the rickshaw in the first place. But I don’t resent their privilege.”
For Richa, the constant ‘blaming’ trivialises the situation and ignores the role of mental health. “I am surprised by our collective lack of dismay or shock at how low we have stooped in our discourse. The social media timelines of the deceased actor’s friends and girlfriend are littered with filth! Who are these ‘fans’? I checked out a few profiles online. The same gutter mouths that abused Sushant when he took a stand on the Padmavat issue are now abusing his loved ones for ‘not being there’ for him. Several of these are fake fan profiles that have emerged overnight, they're using his images to get their daily fix of online validation. Perhaps, these bots should stop looking for excuses to spout hate and just accept that they are miserable lowlifes who are vindictive. They are short sighted. In the real world, this sad attempt to screw with the algorithm will subsume the haters themselves. This hypocrisy is strategic and pathetic. And yet, what hopes do mere mortals have, when the God of cricket can be booed at Wankhede in this country?”
She points out the hypocrisy of several producers shedding ‘crocodile tears’ while not paying their talents and crew.
“A make-up artist I often work with told me that the ‘market’ owes him money commensurate with a 1BHK property in Andheri. Due to uncertainty of this lockdown period, he has had to move out of his rental apartment, and relocate to the farthest suburb at a fraction of the previous rent. I know of producers that haven't even paid their freelance spot boys. The spot-boys are considered the littlest players, till food arrives late on a set. These categories of workers live hand-to-mouth in normal circumstances due to the ‘feast and famine’ nature of our business. Can you imagine the disastrous effect this lockdown must be having on them? The largesse of individual actors, such as Salman Khan must be lauded, along with those that have been helping out silently.”
“This brings me to a larger issue. Change is messy and uncomfortable, but not changing may be fatal. So why can't actors be paid royalty? It is a small price to pay for the loss pf perpetual anonymity. Ditto for directors? Writers? I was paid Rs 2,50,000 (two lacs fifty thousand) for Gangs Of Wasseypur both parts and that’s alright. Kashyap took a chance on me, and for that I am forever grateful. I didn’t even expect to be paid for a break like that. The film went on to become a cult hit. My continuing career is testament to that. However, someone somewhere must make money from a film’s continued popularity. If I am not wrong, again, (going by rules for residual payments in other film industries) even if I were to earn royalty of this film, (*if I worked under the SAG guidelines, I would get only be getting a small percentage, under different categories capped at a maximum of 6.2 percent). Does it make sense that a huge star like Parveen Babi allegedly didn't have enough money for her treatment in her final years? Ditto Hangal saab? Or that Bhagwan Dada lived in a chawl in his final years ?”
Richa holds directors, talent agencies and the media accountable for creating a hostile atmosphere.
“Several directors were seen sharing condolence messages a month ago. So many among these have run down movies of their peers pre-release, have replaced actresses who refused to sleep with them at the last minute and several have in fact repeatedly forecasted ‘iska kuch nahi hoga’. Invariably, many such soothsayers only end up making bhurji with the eggs on their face. You’re not God. Stop infecting the world with your jadedness and cynicism.”
In this business, one can’t even trust one’s own agency/manager because they will steal from you, even though as talent you may deposit all your trust and confidence in that one person/agency.
I had once confronted an ex-agent of mine if he thought it was wrong to steal from one’s own client. This desi Hagrid brazenly declared “ye toh sab karte hain”. If you’re going to make a rotisserie out of the goose that lays golden eggs, that’s the last meal you will have from said goose. But this is a standard operation procedure in our business. Our politics suddenly makes sense yes?”
"I saw journalists, publicists, film promotion people post messages of how they were sick of the business and its ‘toxicity’. Some among these are the most venomous people you might come across. They don’t think twice before sacrificing anyone’s life and sanity at the altar of headlines and TRPs. They themselves could be under-investigation on charges of fraud, rape, paedophilia but will not desist from participating in the demonstration of the very hierarchy they claim to hate. They cannot even spell the word ‘hypocrisy’ correctly but still sit in judgement, sometimes as wannabe ‘woke’ twitterati and sometimes as interviewers who provoke and lie shamelessly.”
Towards the end, Richa writes, “And why is no one talking about what one can clearly identify as a very deliberate attempt to vilify the film business and present all involved in a bad light? Why is the industry with influence comparable to the sport, lacking in unity in its own interest? Why should a small-fry, non-stakeholder be asking these questions in the first place? These issues are on everyone’s minds. There is no system outside of us. We are the system we so desire to fix.”