Sushant Singh Rajput, Rhea Chakraborty And The Great Indian Media Circus. SSR Is The Hero. Rhea Chakraborty The Vamp. And We, The Merry Spectators.
Thrashing Rhea Chakraborty is Easy and Fun. Finding out the Truth is Hard.
The Sushant Singh Rajput death case has been turned into a grand circus that politicians, social media trolls, and mainstream media are gleefully capitalizing on. Rhea Chakraborty’s witch-hunt is part of the spectacle and everyone’s loving it.
Thrashing Rhea Chakraborty is the easiest thing to do. Unfortunately, it serves no purpose other than obstruct justice in the increasingly complicated Sushant Singh Rajput death case. More worryingly, it speaks of who we are as a people.
On September 2, Arnab Goswami was carrying on with his usual nausea-inducing humbug on his hugely popular T.V. show The Debate. Titled “‘Justice for Rhea’ Brigade Stumped”, the episode ran a curious hashtag – “#BharatVsRheaPR” – throughout the show. Addressing a panelist in the middle of the show, Goswami assumed a grave tone and said”
What is justice for Rhea? It means justice for drug peddlers.
Of course this wasn’t the first or last time a news show mounted a vicious attack on Rhea Chakraborty or anyone opposed to her victimization. Although the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) probe into the mysterious death of actor Sushant Singh Rajput is ongoing, multiple shows on multiple channels – Times Now, Zee News, Republic TV, NDTV, and News 18 – have already conducted their own trials and found Miss Chakraborty guilty.
Death of a Star
For thousands of fans, Sushant Singh Rajput (SSR) – a small-town boy from a non-film, middle-class background – was emblematic of the great possibility of success in a dynasty-dominated Bollywood. Understandably, his tragic demise on June 14 plunged the film world and millions of fans into shock and grief. Although the autopsy report attributed his death to suicide caused by asphyxia due to hanging, the matter didn’t rest there. The case had already captured the imagination of middle-class Indians, many of whom saw the actor as a self-made individual who had tasted fame by dint of hard work and talent, without any of the privileges afforded to “star kids”.
As Mumbai Police investigated the case, social media swarmed with theories of nepotism, depression, and heartbreak for the next few weeks. The case took a political turn when representatives of all political parties in Bihar – where Assembly elections are due in November – started demanding a thorough probe. On July 25, SSR’s father K.K. Singh lodged an F.I.R (first information report) with Patna police, accusing Rhea Chakraborty, her family members and associates of abetment of suicide, criminal conspiracy, cheating, and confinement. The Opposition party in Maharashtra, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), promptly seized upon the complaint, using it as a stick to beat the coalition government in Maharashtra comprising the Shiv Sena, Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), and Congress Party.
The following few weeks saw accusations and counter-accusations fly thick and fast. The case quickly descended into a political slugfest, with the Bihar Police accusing the Mumbai Police – which comes under the state home department – of not cooperating in the probe. By the time the CBI, India’s top police agency under the centre, took over the case in the first week of August, the reputation of Mumbai Police had already taken a beating over its allegedly shoddy investigation.
Later, the CBI was joined by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) and Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) to probe angles of money laundering and drug peddling respectively. Meanwhile, India’s flagrantly biased news channels were quick to sensationalize the case, pushing theories of the Maharashtra government being in collusion with a Bollywood-drug mafia nexus which stood to be exposed by the CBI investigation into SSR’s death.
By the time the NCB registered an F.I.R against Rhea Chakraborty, her brother Showik Chakraborty, and three others on August 26, Rhea had already become social and electronic media’s bête noire. Feeling vindicated by Showik Chakraborty’s and Rhea Chakraborty’s arrest, the self-declared “Warriors4SSR” have intensified their attacks, becoming witness, judge, and executioner all at once.
Why Reviling Rhea Chakraborty is Such Fun
Rhea Chakraborty is just the kind of woman one can blithely get away with virtual thrashing. She’s young, not very successful, doesn’t belong to a powerful family, isn’t terribly well-connected, and as her live-in relationship with SSR and bikini-wearing pictures indicate, not exactly a paragon of good old Indian virtue. In the fecund Indian imagination, steeped in misogyny and chauvinism, she fits neatly into the stereotype of the seductive gold-digger who uses sex as a bait to manipulate and jilt rich men.
The relentless trolling she has faced since SSR’s death is testimony to how deep the rot runs. Apart from being sl*t-shamed, abused, and reviled as an opportunistic fortune-huntress, Chakraborty was threatened with rape and murder. As expected, the trolling got worse after K.K. Singh’s police complaint.
Unfortunately, these egregious attacks weren’t confined to social media alone. News channels ran “investigative” shows baring each and every detail of her life, finances, and relationship. Salacious entertainment masquerading as “news” propagated theories of black magic and spells cast by Rhea on SSR. Hindi news channels ran ridiculous “headlines” like “Rhea ke jhooth par kya kehta hai India?” (What does India say of Rhea’s lies?), “Daulat Sushant ki, aish Rhea khandan ki” (Sushant’s wealth, Rhea’s family having all the fun), and “Sushant par Rhea ka kaala jaadu” (Rhea’s black magic on Sushant). Nearly all the grating “debates” conducted by Arnab Goswami, the undisputed emperor of news propaganda, held Rhea culpable with hashtags such as #ArrestRheaChakraborty and #SushantWasMurdered.
With reports surfacing of Sara Ali Khan having briefly dated SSR in 2018, one can’t help but wonder if someone like her, with a “pedigree”, too would have been subjected to the kind of abuse and humiliation meted out to Rhea Chakraborty.
No Rest in Peace
In all these quasi-fictitious narratives, the razzle-dazzle of Bollywood is but a façade disguising a sordid world funded by gangsters and dominated by a lobby of debauched dynasts, where drug-addicts, homosexuals, and muslims are given free rein. And SSR was the industrious interloper from the hinterland who was crushed by the powerful movie mafia. Interestingly, though Rhea is mercilessly targeted all the time, she is regarded as small fry, a tiny cog in the wheel of this diabolical system. For a woman to be hated so intensely and yet deemed insignificant demonstrates the worst kind of misogyny there ever was.
Interestingly, though Rhea is mercilessly targeted all the time, she is regarded as small fry, a tiny cog in the wheel of this diabolical system.
Is it really #justiceforSSR the media is seeking?
Evidence points otherwise. The basic principles of investigation have already been violated by the mainstream media’s irresponsible coverage of the case. For one, stories have been fabricated and premature conclusions drawn. More alarmingly, by displaying images of Sushant’s body, his financial records, pages of his personal diary, his medical history, his post-mortem report, and similarly, every detail of those under scrutiny, the media may be seriously hampering criminal justice. Not only do these unsubstantiated leaks and speculative theories imperil the accused’s chances of justice, but those of SSR.
If it is greater viewership the media is seeking, for political parties like the BJP and Shiv Sena the death of SSR is merely an opportunity to engage in yet another tug-of-war.
In Maharashtra, where BJP’s former ally Shiv Sena is part of a coalition government, it suits the opposition BJP to push the narrative of the Thackerays – the dynasty running the Shiv Sena – being hand in glove with the Bollywood mafia that was directly or indirectly responsible for SSR’s death.
Accusing the Mumbai Police of not investigating the case thoroughly, sending the Bihar Police to Maharashtra, and later getting the case transferred to the CBI may well have been part of BJP’s calculated strategy to shame the state government and assert one-upmanship.
Moreover, even celebrities who’ve spoken up against Rhea’s victimization have been savagely trolled on social media. This goes to show just how toxic the debate around an unfortunate death has become. In truth, many of the revenge-seeking “Warriors4SSR” are no warriors at all. They are cravenly little people who are using the power of social media to create an alternate reality that is in fact a reflection of their own prejudices and fears.
The Chimera of Justice
The SSR death case has recently taken several unexpected turns, with details becoming murkier by the day. Rhea Chakraborty was arrested by the NCB on September 8 for procurement of drugs and subsequently denied bail. Only a day before, she had lodged a complaint with Mumbai Police against SSR’s sisters, for allegedly colluding with a doctor to prescribe drugs to him without consultation.
The ED is yet to find any evidence of INR 15 crores being siphoned off SSR’s account, as claimed by the latter’s father. A few days ago, the BJP also found itself in a spot when Sandip Ssingh was named in the drug cartel allegedly involved in SSR’s death. Ssingh is the producer of Prime Minister Modi’s biopic and a beneficiary of the Vibrant Gujarat summit despite his company reporting losses.
Meanwhile, Rhea’s arrest has been met with chest-thumping triumphalism across sections of mainstream and social media. Hashtags celebrating her arrest started trending on Twitter soon afterwards.
The show, as they say, must go on.