Cinestaan looks back at how an event that marked a turning point in the Hindi film industry’s politicization unfolded.
Sushant Singh Rajput death anniversary: Timeline of tragedy that shocked a nation
Mumbai - 14 Jun 2021 16:30 IST
Updated : 20:48 IST
Sushant Singh Rajput donned many hats. A prominent performer, avid astronomer, student of philosophy and voracious reader, he never sought to be the centre of attention, or controversy. His untimely death, however, engendered events that divided the film industry along socio-political lines and spawned a circus — fuelled by conspiracy theories and witch hunts by certain media channels and political leaders — into which a country that was still coming to terms with the COVID-19 pandemic and anticipating elections in the actor's home state was unwittingly drawn.
While the West has witnessed bouts of mass hysteria after popular cultural icons such as James Dean and Kurt Cobain were cut down in their prime, India had been mostly exempt from this phenomenon.
One year later, the media has moved on to other 'burning issues' and politicians to other 'causes' and calculations. The industry, walloped by COVID-19, is slowly limping back to normal. Now that the smoke has cleared, all that remains is the sense of loss that Rajput's friends and family have to deal with.
While it might not be convenient, or comfortable, Cinestaan looks back at the timeline of an event that marked a turning point in the film industry’s politicization.
14 June 2020
The actor's body is found hanging in his flat in Mumbai. The family puts out a statement asking to be left in peace.
As the police investigation into the actor’s death commences, things snowball online. Kangana Ranaut takes to Twitter to slam the industry for allegedly alienating Rajput and blames it for his death. Director Anubhav Sinha, producer Nikhil Dwivedi and hairstylist Sapna Bhavnani also call out the ‘hypocrisy of the industry for 'sidelining' the actor.
The Rajput family experiences another tragedy after the actor's sister-in-law dies in Bihar. The Mumbai police are brought in by then-Maharashtra home minister Anil Deshmukh to investigate the cause of death even though the post-mortem report declared it was asphyxia caused by strangulation.
The case assumes national proportions after a suit is filed in Muzaffarpur against Karan Johar, Salman Khan, Sanjay Leela Bhansali and Ekta Kapoor over the death. Meanwhile, Rajput’s team launches a website named Self Musings in his memory.
Rhea Chakraborty, Sushant Singh Rajput’s girlfriend, is summoned to the Bandra police station for questioning.
The Mumbai police receive the final post-mortem confirmation by doctors suggesting that the body bears no marks of a struggle.
29 June 2020
Fans and celebrities share their condolences online. Nana Patekar and Shekhar Suman, who strongly believes that the actor was murdered, visit the Rajputs' Patna home to pay their respects.
It's my firm belief that SSR was murdered brutally and did not commit suicide.And if that's the case why are the culprits roaming around scot free?why justice is being delayed?why there is no closure???and many more unanswered questions.we need all d answers.— Shekhar Suman (@shekharsuman7) June 14, 2021
Major figures from the film industry such as director Sanjay Leela Bhansali, Rajeev Masand and Yash Raj Films chairman Aditya Chopra are called in for questioning.
Chakraborty takes to social media to request the home minister, Amit Shah, to order the CBI (Central Bureau of Investigation) to investigate Rajput’s death. The actress writes, “It is now over a month since his sudden demise. I have complete faith in the government. However, in the interest of justice, I request you with folded hands to initiate a CBI enquiry into this matter. I only want to understand what pressures prompted Sushant to take this step.”
Rajput’s father lodges a complaint in a police station in Patna against Chakraborty, her family and others, alleging that they played a role in the suicide. The family also claims that the actress fleeced Rajput. A case is registered under various sections of the Indian Penal Code, including abetment to suicide.
Chakraborty moves the Supreme Court seeking a transfer of the case from Patna to Mumbai where the probe into Rajput’s death is already in progress.
Actress Rhea Chakraborty moves SC, seeks transfer of Patna FIR to Mumbai where probe is on in Sushant Singh Rajput death case— Press Trust of India (@PTI_News) July 29, 2020
The Enforcement Directorate (ED) files a case of money laundering against Chakraborty and several others on the basis of Rajput’s father’s FIR in Patna. The Patna police are informed that the ED is looking into the case under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA).
Chakraborty comes out with a video declaring her ‘complete faith’ in the judiciary and that ‘truth shall prevail’.
The case explodes into a pitched political battle between the ruling party at the Centre, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), and the ruling party in the state of Maharashtra, Shiv Sena. Shiv Sena leader Anil Parab denounces the Centre for the decision to conduct a CBI probe into the case as ‘politically motivated’.
Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar meets Rajput’s family and requests the Central government to ask the CBI to initiate a probe into his death. August is also the month where campaigning for the Bihar assembly elections begins.
With a case filed in Patna, pressure on the Mumbai police begins to increase. Allegations are laid at the doorstep of Aditya Thackeray, the chief minister's son.
Thackeray denies any connection with the case, terming the allegations ‘dirty politics’.
The Union government of India accepts the Bihar government’s advice to hand over the case to the CBI.
Chakraborty makes her first appearance in front of the ED. The actress, her manager Ritesh Shah and former manager Shruti Modi, are called in by the ED in connection with the money laundering case as well as her father and her brother, Showik.
Chakraborty submits her plea to the Supreme Court stating that Rajput’s death was being put to a media trial and blown out of proportion in view of the upcoming Bihar elections. She submits a 12-page affidavit, citing ‘constant sensationalism’ in the case.
On Independence Day, the CBI makes its first strides in the case of Rajput's death. They meet the actor’s family, even as the ED investigates his house staff in Mumbai.
The Supreme Court orders a CBI inquiry into Rajput’s demise. The court observes that the FIR registered in Patna is legitimate and that the state of Maharashtra chose not to challenge the order. The court also asks the Mumbai police to hand over all the evidence to the CBI.
The CBI arrives in Mumbai to conduct a complete investigation of Rajput’s apartment. With forensic experts in tow, they question the actor’s cook, maid and friend, Sidharth Pithani.
The Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) joins the growing list of investigative agencies on the case. The third narcotics angle emerges. The NCB files a criminal case against Chakraborty and several others to probe their alleged involvement in criminal activities.
The ED’s probe allegedly revealed several WhatsApp messages which reportedly revealed the trade of banned substances. Upon examination, then-NCB director, Rakesh Asthana, orders his officials to file a case.
Chakraborty is summoned by the CBI for questioning, which takes place over two days. Upon a request by the CBI, the actress is provided security cover by the Mumbai police.
Chakraborty’s parents, including her father, Indrajit, are subjected to detailed questioning by the CBI.
Even as the agencies continue their investigation, the media trial rages on. Several figures, particularly female members of the Hindi film industry, back Chakraborty.
The Producers’ Guild of India slams efforts to ‘defame the industry’ through a ‘concerted effort’. Yet, with some members of the industry taking a stand against its alleged excesses, it is a very divided house.
Showik is arrested by the NCB in connection with the drugs probe. On 5 September, in remanded in 14-day judicial custody by a special court in Mumbai.
Chakraborty’s father, Indrajit, issues a statement after the arrest of his son that reads, “Congratulations India, you have arrested my son, I'm sure next on the line is my daughter and I don't know who is next thereafter. You have effectively demolished a middle-class family. But of course, for the sake of justice, everything is justified. Jai Hind.”
The NCB arrests Chakraborty in connection with the drug case and remands her in judicial custody.
A special court rejects the bail plea of Chakraborty and the others arrested in the case and remands them in judicial custody.
Bail pleas of Showik Chakraborty, Rhea Chakraborty, Abdul Basit, Zaid Vilatra, Dipesh Sawant & Samuel Miranda have been rejected by a special court in Mumbai.— ANI (@ANI) September 11, 2020
They're arrested by NCB in connection with drugs case related to #SushantSinghRajput case. pic.twitter.com/pFO8bqYIxi
The home ministry, in response to a question in parliament, states that there had been no ‘actionable input’ from the NCB regarding drug use in the film industry.
Social media, however, is unconvinced. Even Ranaut, in August, said that she would make revelations about drug use in the film industry but claimed that she needed protection from the NCB first.
With news anchors making unsubstantiated statements, many in the industry are peeved. One of the celebrities under the microscope, Rakul Preet Singh, fights fire with fire, filing a case in the Delhi high court. The court subsequently directs the Central government, the public broadcasting agency Prasar Bharati and the News Broadcasters Association to act on the petition filed by the actress.
The sessions court in Mumbai denies bail to Chakraborty and extends the judicial custody of the actress and Showik till 6 October 2020.
Actresses Deepika Padukone and Sara Ali Khan, among others, are summoned by the NCB for questioning in connection with the investigation into the alleged usage of drugs in the film industry.
The lead doctor at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) rules out murder as the cause of death in Rajput’s case. Dr Sudhir Gupta, the head of the panel set up to re-examine the post-mortem and viscera, concludes that the actor died by suicide.
The Bombay high court grants bail to Chakraborty. The decision comes out of the blue as a Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act (NDPS) court denied the actor reprieve a day ago. However, the court does not grant relief to Showik.
As part of its investigation, the Enforcement Directorate (ED) raids the offices and residence of Dinesh Vijan, producer of Rajput’s film Raabta (2017).
The News Broadcasting Standards Authority slams news channels for running unsubstantiated reports about Rakul Preet Singh.
Chakraborty’s lawyer, Satish Maneshinde, demands that the case report filed by the CBI be made publicly available. He is supported by the former home minister of Maharashtra, Anil Deshmukh, who says, “The people of Maharashtra and the country are eagerly waiting for the CBI’s report on its investigation into Sushant Singh Rajput’s death case. People ask me about the status of the case. I request the CBI to reveal whether it was a suicide or murder. Five to six months have passed since the case was handed over to the CBI. Hence, the agency should make its report public as soon as possible to clarify whether it was suicide or murder.”
16 February 2021
An FIR filed on the basis of a complaint by Chakraborty leads to an investigation against the sisters of Rajput. The complaint claims that they conspired with a doctor to provide him with medicines on the basis of a false prescription. While the Bombay high court dismisses the plaint against one sister, Meetu Singh, it observes, “There is prima facie case found against Priyanka Singh and there should not be any impediment against investigation against her.”
Amid the CBI and ED investigations, the NCB submits a staggering 12,000-page report against 33, including Chakraborty in the drug case.
The NCB files a case in the Supreme Court of India demanding the cancellation of the Bombay high court bail order to Chakraborty.
The apex declines to cancel the bail order. Responding to solicitor general Tushar Mehta’s observations, the court bench, led by then-chief justice SA Bobde, AS Bopanna and V Ramasubramaniam, states, “We find the new things you do very difficult to understand. You cannot file a petition challenging the observations. You can only challenge the order."
Meanwhile, the controversy "inspires" a few filmmakers. The late actor’s father files a case in Delhi high court objecting to the use of his son’s likeness. Several films, namely Nyay: The Justice, Murder: A Star Was Lost and Shashank, are announced.
The late actor’s friend and roommate, Sidharth Pithani is arrested by the NCB in a drugs case related to the actor’s death. Pithani had been previously questioned by the CBI, ED, and the NCB. Pithani subsequently applies for bail in the NDPS court, which, in turn, directs the NCB to file a reply regarding the same.
Chakraborty is called in for questioning again by the NCB over her alleged involvement in the case. There are several reports about the actress’s statements in the press, even though the court came down heavily on such leaks.
In a judgement that might shape quite a few films in the future, the Delhi high court refuses to stay the release of a film based on the late actor’s death. It observes, “The artistic freedom to create fictional works cannot be controlled, limited, or confined within set boundaries. An artist’s inspiration can come from any source, and the court cannot filter real-life events.”
Soon after, the trailer for Nyay: The Justice is released.