Bollywood veteran and former parliamentarian Shatrughan Sinha spoke to Republic TV’s Editor-in-Chief Arnab Goswami in an exclusive edition of Nation Wants To Know on Saturday, on the back of almost unprecedented tumult in the film industry following the shock mid-June death of actor Sushant Singh Rajput.
After Kangana Ranaut made sensational allegations on the same forum regarding Bollywood lobbyism and groupism accentuating nepotism to a point where ‘systematic sidelining’ and ‘boycott’ may have contributed to Sushant’s demise, Shatrughan Sinha left no line of questioning unanswered.
Sinha had high praise for Sushant, saying “Although I met him only once I found him a thorough gentleman, a very kind human, a committed intelligent sharp and wonderful human being” While he conceded that he only knew Sushant’s family via friends, he emphasised that they too like him hailed from Bihar, calling Sushant ‘Patna ka ladla’ and ‘son of the soil’.
Highlighting how Sushant was self-made, the veteran recounted their meeting. “When he met me he told me ‘you have been a source of inspiration for me. When I came here I thought when you can do it, and some other seniors have, ‘why can’t I?’ And he made it.”
“Ultimately people say he fell into the trap of some group. There’s an age-gap between us, he’s like my son. I was heartbroken that such a young boy committed suicide. Suicide is not the solution, in fact, it is the biggest problem.”
He came to Kangana Ranaut almost immediately, praising her as well. “I have hardly met her, but I admire her and hold her in high esteem, because Kangana also, besides being intelligent and sharp, has dignity and has made it absolutely on her own without any left, right and center support.
The actor-turned-politician spoke on the specific matter of Sushant allegedly having run afoul of a production house with whom he was contracted and having suffered career-wise as a result.
“I always speak against injustice, whether in real or reel life. I don’t know about the suicide - I only know what media and some relatives have told me,” he prefaced, before being asked about purported blind-spots in the death, to which he responded that the family’s wishes must be kept in mind while pursuing the matter in any dimension. “If you say there’s more than meets the eye - whether it’s suicide or not - I would say that it should be probed until a logical conclusion,” he stated.
Putting the onus on Sushant’s close circle, the former Patna Sahib Lok Sabha MP opined, “You can’t be judgmental, you can’t issue certificates to depress or frustrate someone. I would also add to that, however, that if he was depressed and was being meted injustice, where were his friends then? They should have stopped this situation from ever arising, this atrocity should never have been allowed.”
At this point, however, Shatrughan Sinha was asked to apply his vast knowledge and experience of the industry to some of the allegations regarding the ill-treatment Sushant had to deal with, which may have caused his public appeals for people to watch his 2019 release Sonchiriya.
Enunciating that there are different ‘parts’ to Bollywood, Shatrughan Sinha said “One is ‘secular’ and sees success and failure, whether it is me, Danny Denzogpa or Mithun Chakraborty - whoever is successful. If they’re not successful, nothing else will work. The second part is also secular - rather was - that there’s no religion, whether it’s Kamal Haasan or anyone else - it relies on stardom so far as the film was successful.”
“I was told Sushant was a victim of groupism. I feel if this happened, some people are to blame - if they promised him things and didn’t keep them - they are responsible.” Remarking on Kangana Ranaut’s experience in encountering this and being an almost lone crusader in this regard, Shotgun said, “Kangana has her own experience, she knows this minutely and has witnessed and suffered this kind of drama. Some of us seniors don’t know this in-depth. But there is an inquiry ongoing, when it completes you know that I am neither scared nor am I going to be quiet.”
Shatrughan Sinha went on to fiercely refute any attempts to malign Sushant and shift blame in his direction, as Bollywood groups have been accused of doing, roaring “Absolutely Not”.
He pointed towards the Mumbai police’s probe to get to the bottom of the matter, however, and in an acknowledgment of views similar to Kangana’s - that there is a shortcoming in the investigation - he said, “We should keep in mind that even CBI isn’t a holy cow, it is simply the best cow.” He went on to concede that CBI should be given the case in case there is any hint of mismatching facts, in order to put the matter to rest.
Coming to the prevailing divide in the industry, which many see as a ‘Kangana vs rest’ battle, Shotgun put his weight behind the Queen star. “Of course (I support her). Myself, Dharmendra, Amitabh Bachchan were self-made. We didn’t need any Godfather in the industry. I heard in many places about Sushant also that he came with a ‘small-town mindset’. What ‘small-town’? Patna is a great city. Many of the most successful people have come from so-called small cities. I had commended Kangana last year, I’m doing the same this year. She has exemplified the words ‘when the going gets tough, the tough get going.’ Today I see most people attacking her because of jealousy - that ‘without our blessing, without depending on us, without paying her respects to us, she has made it’”. The Bollywood legend went on to equate Kangana with a modern-day Dharmendra.
With the discussion shifting to how times have changed in Bollywood, and on being asked whether ‘boycotts’ and nepotism were prevalent during his heyday, Shatrughan Sinha said, ‘Yes it used to happen. Perhaps it happens more now. Superstar Rajesh Khanna had a group - his loyalists wouldn’t want any other actor to come up. I used to hear about Shammi Kapoor also having a group like this. Dharmendra and I always kept away from these groups.”
“An actor I regard highly whom many are trying to forget but was more talented than 99% of them - Govinda - see what happened to him. The way he developed himself. He stood on his own feet - he was his own teacher - and became an institution with his dance and his acting. However, I heard, that as his fortunes soured, he was shunted, he was alienated, his ongoing film was taken over and stolen. He had to put up with all this. This happens in film, and I hear it’s happening even more now.”
“As far as Kangana is concerned, and Sushant’s film Dil Bechara has come out - I feel that the younger generation feels that his aspirations died with him and identify with him. There was an attempt to malign him - his future was very bright. They made certain disparaging judgments about Kangana as well. What did she ever take from them? She has made it with her own determination, commitment and passion, and Sushant was also coming with the same qualities. There was an attempt to crush both of them and people identify them in the same terms.”
“I want to tell you - this friendship, love and brotherhood in Bollywood is only limited to the screen. Behind the veil, it ends.” He went on to recount, "My friend Shubhash Ghai correctly used to say a film relationship is a legal relationship. It lasts so long as your film or career are working out, else they fall apart. It’s a vicious circle. People can go to any extent when things turn against them. They correctly say that politics and Bollywood are cut-throat, and the film industry is the more cut-throat of the two”.
Finally, he issued a message for the so-called gatekeepers of the industry - “The film industry is not someone’s fiefdom (Jagir) - ‘Who are you? Where have you come from? One-two of your films have worked, what since then? Who are you to judge? Film industry is everyone’s, it is everyone’s home and you are not its head.”
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