An actor of science and faith: Sushant Singh Rajput (1986-2020)
Mourning the passing of a talented actor, and a searching human
My first assignment as an entertainment journalist in Mumbai was an interview of Sushant Singh Rajput. It was June 2017, a few days before the release of Raabta. Too young to be made an anchor, I was relegated to the task of assistant cameraman. The setup I was handed (and barely knew how to operate) was a small, rigged iPhone — not a bulky television camera typically used on such shoots. As Sushant settled down with his co-star Kriti Sanon, he cast a curious look in my direction. “iPhone shoot?” he wondered aloud. I might have thought he may look down on it, but then, he added, “How cool.”
Sushant was ever a man of the future. The actor was always seeking out new paths, new innovations. He shared a deep love for science and cosmology, and his film choices were marked by this need to experiment. He started out on television, debuting in the romantic show Kis Desh Mein Hai Meraa Dil and later breaking out with the household hit Pavitra Rishta. The restrictive nature of Indian soap operas is well-known, but Sushant was already making a mark. Asked about his impressions of the actor, director Dibakar Banerjee later commented that he found him ‘understated on TV', which as anyone can tell you is a miracle in itself.
This knack for restraint was evident in his big-screen debut, Kai Po Che!, where he played the inflammable ex-cricketer Ishaan. Lean and bewhiskered, Sushant soared over Abhishek Kapoor’s dusty friendship drama, announcing himself as the next big thing in Bollywood. Two big-bannered vehicles followed — Shuddh Desi Romance and PK — and for a while, his journey seemed resigned to the beats of mainstream stardom.
Sushant, though, responded with an astonishing choice, appearing as the newest iteration of the 20th century Bengali sleuth in Dibakar’s Detective Byomkesh Bakshi! It was a matter of great cultural debate — and I had my own reservations against the film’s narrative designs as well as Sushant’s performance. Yet, there was no denying that this was a good kind of a shake-up. Sushant would quickly bounce back with the celebrated M.S. Dhoni biopic. Directed by Neeraj Pandey, this was perhaps his most definitive performance, a box-office winner that brought out the lesser-known indecisions of an ace cricketer.
Sushant could hold his own in most films. Twee and old-world, the disaster epic Kedarnath was bogged down by convention; still, the actor took great and obvious pains lugging Sara Ali Khan up and down a mountain. In Sonchiriya, he was stoutly reliable as a dacoit losing his faith in his tribe. He was efficient in Chhichhore too, running through as many tics and jitters as an old man as he did as a college fresher.
At the trailer launch of Kedarnath in 2018, Sushant was asked a question about faith. “There are different ways to investigate the truth,” said the actor known for both quoting Shiv mantras and Carl Sagan on his Instagram page. “One is science… the other is faith.” To whichever world we have lost him to now, our love shall no doubt reach unbound.