Discover more from From Prathyush
On Mourning Un-sentimentally
Sushant Singh Rajput's obituaries and his twitter frenzied fans have something in common- cliche.
Dick Allen, the American poet, when thinking about the Sandy Hook Elementary School Shooting had said, “poetry written very close to the time of a tragic event … is often, shall we say, weak -- so heartfelt , so spontaneous, that it often turns into cliché. The imagery isn't there, the rhythm isn't there, it just isn't there." (A bit later, he would write a beautifully spare and moving poem as a tribute, Solace, that was then put to music by the Pulitzer and Grammy Award winning American composer William Bolcom)
And that is precisely how I felt about the obituaries that were pouring in for film actors passing away, first for Irrfan, then for Sushant Singh Rajput. The former weakened through life, and the latter weakened by life, died by suicide. The obituaries read like cliches, heartfelt, and sentimental, yes, but with a pretense of intimacy and longing that just didn’t exist while the actors lived. Perhaps, these obituaries become a space to over-compensate for the incorrigible brashness and speed with which human opinions crystallize. (Nandini Ramnath’s balanced and mindful obit for Rishi Kapoor and Uday Bhatia’s restrained paen to Rajput are both excellent examples of good obits, but the truth is that the former was written before-hand, and the latter published a week after the death, giving both writers some distance to perhaps temper the cliche.)
Then, something worse, a twitter storm brewed, and Rajput’s suicide was politicized, and this same pretense of having known him and championed his talent and his films became almost farcical. Kangana Ranaut posting sanguine videos of Yoga and vegetarian picnics, spewed hate. No one realized that what the obituary writers and the twitter trolls were doing was quite similar, just that the intent of the latter was more sinister, more political, and more obviously ignorant. (Obituaries are rigorously fact-checked, while tweets given shape by immediate rage thrumming under the fingers, not so much)
The release of Rajput’s film Dil Bechara (the remake of The Fault In Our Stars -TFIOS hereon, originally titled Kizie Aur Mannie, the titular characters) put this hateful pretense of love center stage. The film is about teenage lovers with cancer. Augustus Waters and Hazel Grace. Immanual Rajkumar Jr and Kizie Basu. Popular (popularity has no business with profundity) writers like Chetan Bhagat with his outsized ego tweeted out a veiled threat towards critics who would give the film a bad review.
“Don't act oversmart. Don't write rubbish. Be fair and sensible. Don't try your dirty tricks. You have ruined enough lives. Now stop. We'll be watching.”
He argued that all critics have a whatsapp group, and they collude to bring down or prop up films. (As if critics had that kind of power) Film critic Anupama Chopra (under whose hire I am) decided to not review the film. I really liked that she changed the narrative, saying she wouldn’t do this not because of the twitter trolling she was receiving, but because she herself couldn’t watch this movie unclouded. But the truth is, no one could. Every review that came out headlined the fact that Sushant’s last film was about death and grieving. (Also, the fact that the director has #MeToo allegations made against him, whose investigations led to no closure is conveniently un-discussed.)
I found the film shoddy at best, and awful at worst. I had read John Green when I was a teenager fixating on quotes (I attempted to keep a quote-book to write down quotes that I might want to wield casually in conversations later. I remember when I read The Sense Of An Ending, I had transferred to my quote-book “That is so philosophically self-evident”, something I used often, inviting my friend’s eye-rolls.) Green’s writing had the effort of profundity that really worked for its target audience. My friend had got the book from her cousins abroad (Green’s books were not available in Dubai till about a few months after the fame of TFIOS) and she marked it with yellow post-its and gave it to me, telling me to reply to the post its, and add my own, and she will do the same when she reads the book a second time. She finished the book the second time weeping on the carpet of our friend’s room while some of us were shuffling on the bed discussing what most bored teenagers discuss. We went to watch the movie together, holding hands. The book, with dog-eared post-its, was there with us, inside a plastic bag, and each of our hands was slipped inside it holding onto the cover as Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort fell in love and parted by death.
Dil Bechara bastardized this for me. (I wrote about how it distorted, deviated, and referenced the book/film here) I will always remember Rajput as the dacoit with existential angst in Sonchiriya, or even his opaque goodness as a Muslim porter in Kedarnath. These were good movies to remember the good man by. (DB has an extremely high IMDb rating, all the frothing fans rating it high as a tribute to a man for whom such ratings can’t mean anything. Sonchiriya’s rating is still as it was.)
The central problem with Dil Bechara was its inability to be casual about its profundity. (Ditto for most obit writers.) The best example of this is in Isaac, Augustus Waters’ friend blinded by cancer. In this film he is a Bihari boy, JP. In one of the scenes, Augustus/Manny asks for Isaac/JP to give his eulogy. This is what Isaac says:
“When the scientists from the future show up at my house with robot eyes and tell me to try them on, I will tell them to screw off because I do not want to see a world without him. And then, having made my rhetorical point, I will put my robot eyes on , because I mean, with robot eyes you can probably see through girls’ shorts and stuff. Augustus, my friend, Godspeed.”
In Dil Bechara JP was happy having just made his rhetorical point, “Bohut accha hua ke hum andhe hue. Kyunki humko vo duniya dekhni nahin hai, jisme Manny nahin hai.” (It’s good I became blind, I don’t want to see a world without Manny.)
The film strips all dialogue of banter, and thus humour, and everything feels staged. When Manny and Kizie go to Paris he takes her to the graveyard to then tell her that his cancer has come back lighting him up “like a Christmas tree”. (There was also no need for them to be in Paris. In TFIOS Peter Van Houten, the author they are in search of is Dutch, from Amsterdam. Here, Abhimanyu Veer, the singer they are in search of is an Indian, the whole Paris thing could have just shifted to Uttarakhand or Meghalaya, I don’t understand the fixation with Europe in 2020 when we don’t need cinema to explain what foreign locations look like. Besides, that Raja Kumari rap when they land in Paris doesn’t do anyone any favour. Also the fact that they changed the pursuit for a book to a pursuit for a song tells you quite a bit about how cinema sees teenagers in India today.)
I was quite mad after having watched the film, how could they take such phenomenal source material and phenomenal actors to make such a mediocre film. This anger, watered down, was also what I felt while reading the obituaries for Rajput. How can you write about a consummate man with such tasteless cliche? (I was thinking of Manto’s mud-slinging obituaries that he wrote in love for people that passed away.) Surely, there must be better literary ways to place people on a pedestal. It was then I realized what the root problem for my anger was. They placed him on a pedestal, when the pedestal least mattered to him.