Big Bad Wolves

Power eats up the souls and bodies of the powerless and spits the gristle out one corner of its mouth. Power never apologizes. Power doesn’t stop. Power doesn’t feel shame. Power never abdicates.

More information and perspectives are gushing forth regarding the suicide of Sushant Singh Rajput, an excellent, aspiring Bollywood actor who’s said to have privately pleaded for support saying he had “no godfather” in Bollywood. That would mean the powers-that-be, the gods of Bollywood, treated him and — I think it’s fair to say this — killed hm ‘for their sport.(I want some day to write a screenplay about how no one really knows who William Shakespeare was because he was a woman.)

I return to this topic today to add a few thoughts. First, though, as a parent, I can(not) fathom the family’s grief and sincerely beg their pardon for adding to the cyber-storm about their son’s death. But my thoughts today are about mental health and its stigma in India and elsewhere. They are also about the interesting intersections of gender, class, ethnicity, power and wellbeing in India and elsewhere.

Is there something unique about this suicide? I’d say there is. A man in the public eye — young, goodlokking, talented, promising — gave into impossible odds of unequal power. Had this been a woman otherwise similarly situated, there would have been strong reaction to that as well, but the gender of the vanquished sharpens the point of a conversation that tends to be seen within “feminized” parameters. How many female Bollywood stars have been destroyed by the powers-that-be of that industry? And how many leading or otherwise influential men? The ratio is staggeringly unequal.

Which means that in part the maelstrom over Rajput’s death is not because of his gender but about his gender, a distinction with a not subtle difference. Women are generally considered weaker, more unstable, more destroyable. But when a man demonstrates such “womanly” weaknesses (and in this I’m led byt reports that people are minimizing the tragedy by calling Rajput “weak”), attention MUST fix on the fact that powers-that-be in Bollywood in his case acted so cruelly, so brazenly arrogantly and ruthlessly, that it led an unlikely candidate to the altar of self-destruction.

Will there be a film made one day about Sushant SIngh Rajput? Don’t know, but recall that stories and films abound about a comparable fate of a Parveen Babi, a Vimmy, a Sadhana (My god, Sadhana!), and others. Not to mention that actresses are figuratively ‘murdered’ or ‘commit suicide’ when they age and marry and leave their work.

Rajput’s tragic death must be seen in the context that in the fairly global fairy tale where power generally devours women and spits them out as gristle (remember Red Riding Hood’s Wolf?), a MAN has suffered that unlikely fate. A MAN has died a womanly death. Whether anyone says it out loud or not, that Rajput was a man, that he was upper-caste Hindu, that he was gorgeous, that he was talented, meant nothing because he had “no godfather.” Like women, who have only one kind, for which Rajput presumably didn’t qualify or apply. (BTW, some Hindutva loonies have swiftly recast Rajput’s story in anti-Muslim terms already; how creative people can be, and if only they. . . .!)

It’a a mad, mad mad world, and women, especially, know it. See Kangana Ranaut, who has sometimes been type-cast as that woman whom power destroyed, but not in this video: It’s in Hindi. but if you don’t understand it, you’ll catch the drfit…..

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