The apparent deaths by suicide of youthful Bollywood actors Preksha Mehta and Sushant Singh Rajput has brought the spotlight on the world of showbiz during this long-drawn fight against Covid-19.
The pandemic had literally shut down the world for some time, and there still seems further to go before things get back to normal.
Showbiz, especially, is a business in which the workers (entertainers) thrive off fame and adoration from fans. Even the most reclusive of them will tell you that they at least crave the stage, the red carpet events or any other opportunity in their line of work that gives them opportunity to mingle with their legions at least once in a while.
The last four or so months have seen actors, musicians and sportspeople confined with their families, at best, or alone during this isolation period. The psychological effects of the lack of physical contact or close proximity to others has been devastating.
A lot of people who didn’t know they were having mental health issues are coming to the realisation that keeping busy and being around people had been one of their ways of coping and keeping mental breakdown at bay.
A warning from experts in the field of mental health said the combination of enforced isolation, increased anxiety, financial worries, and reduced access to therapy could leave those suffering alone at risk.
Speaking to Al Jazeera Nikhil Taneja, CEO of Yuvaa, a youth media organisation said: “The very idea of depression or anxiety is treated as a foreign concept, we don’t have a vocabulary for such things in India. That’s why many parents treat them as fads or excuses, which leads to stigma and absence of family support for young people seeking help.”
Preksha Mehta, popular for her work in the television drama series Crime Patrol and movie Pad Man, was found hanging from a ceiling fan at her residence in the city of Indore, India. A note she left behind read: “My shattered dreams have broken my confidence; I can’t live with dead dreams. It’s difficult to live in this negativity. I have been trying since past one year. I am tired now.”
An article in the Hindustan Times quoted her father, Ravindra Mehta, saying: “Preksha used to remain restless as all shoots had halted due to lockdown. She was upset over the further extension of the lockdown in Mumbai. She never liked sitting idle.
Whenever she used to read about the lockdown in the newspaper, I used to tell her that she shouldn’t be worried as it’s for everyone. We had no idea she will take such a drastic step.”
Her death, at only 25 years, seemed eerily similar to that of Jia Khan, almost exactly seven years before. Reports by police had said that Jiah Khan was heartbroken after her then relationship had reportedly failed.
The British-American actress was discovered hanging from a ceiling fan in her bedroom at her family’s residence in Mumbai on June 3, 2013. She had auditioned for a film on May 31 and wasn’t feeling optimistic about her chances of landing the role.
Sushant Singh Rajput was not only your ordinary actor, he was an avid lover of science; especially along astrophysics and quantum physics. When he was found dead, also by hanging himself from a ceiling fan in his home in Mumbai, the International Space
University in France paid a tribute to the late actor on its site: “We are deeply saddened by the dramatic news on the death of well-known Indian actor Sushant Singh Rajput. Mr. Singh Rajput was a believer and a strong supporter of STEM education…” read part of an article by TRT World.
His death has been blamed on nepotism, rivalry and gatekeeping that has dogged Bollywood for a long time. Actors and fans alike, led by Actor Shekhar Suman, had been calling for justice for the deceased actor from those they felt are to blame for the woes of the once-promising actor who had seen his opportunities dwindle in the lead up to his death.
What is truly disturbing is the fact that his suicide and that of his former manager’s, Disha Salian, were days apart. Ms Disha Salian died after falling from the 14th floor of a building in Mumbai.
Bollywood is a demanding industry. Last year, Indian movie goers watched more than 2,200 movies at the theatre. With that number of films, for one who has become accustomed to being a household name, it would be very hard not to get an acting job every so often.
However, that is where actors who aren’t in the right company in terms of the industry’s influential players find themselves. If you’re not the child of a star, producer or some sort of executive, then you will find that climbing and then staying on top of the pile (of actors) will be a hard task.
It doesn’t help that Bollywood fans are some of the most fervent there are out here and they want to keep up with their stars all the time.
This means that stars have to keep them on toes with everything new and exciting on social media if it’s not fresh work they are updating them with. Appearances is everything.
And now there’s a new worry for the aging actors who have been banned by the government from working on film and television sets due to their vulnerability to Covid-19 infection.
Kanwaljit Singh, who was replaced on his show “Sandwich” by a younger actor as actors above the age of 65 are ‘benched’, cried out to the Indian government to reconsider their stand.
“So what do actors like me do? Hang up our boots? How can I be asked NOT to work?” he said to Film Information. “We are fond of working, we love our work, how can the government stop us?
Will the authorities wake up when one senior actor, in depression for being out of work, commits suicide? Not every senior actor or unit member is well placed enough to tide over these difficult times by simply sitting at home, not working. Most of them need to work, some for financial reasons, others for the sheer love of work.”