Emperor Meiji (about Katsumoto): Tell me how he died.
Nathan Algren: I will tell you how I lived.
I never thought that one day I would be writing about Sushant Singh Rajput — SSR to the world — in the past tense. Not even in my worst nightmares. But I have to. Partly because what happened a couple of years ago should not have happened (SSR left us two years ago on June 14). Partly because it is cathartic. My relationship with him began some 27 years ago in a very happy setting. Like any other of his age, he admired poetry, liked movies, loved cricket and wanted to become an engineer. The pursuit of which brought him to a school in the national capital. My association with him, though, deepened in troubled times. I have lost his mother from him too soon. It drove him into a shell for a while. In a bid to get him back to his usual self, I made bets with him like: “You are going to be a big movie star one day, your posters will be all over town, there will be police bandobast to control the crowd when you will come home.” By and by, his smile returned. So did the twinkle in his eyes from him. Not that we had any idea at that time how all this would happen. We just talked and it really helped. The best way to deal with grief at a young age is to allow oneself to be hijacked by a big dream.
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I believe that anything you want you can achieve, whatever your means. You just need to be aware and allow things to happen. It helps if you can visualize what you want and go about attaining your goal in a step by step manner. You unconsciously make choices and do things that in due course take you to your visualized future.
Some time later, he fulfilled his obligation of joining an engineering college. To cope with the ragging on the campus, he took the unusual path of enthralling his seniors with his dance moves. I have enrolled for acting classes and joined dance academies. On the side, he also started giving home tuitions. To ward off the attention of his girl students, he used to try to look unattractive by wearing an over-sized, crumpled kurta and oiling his hair profusely.
His dance academy took him to locations outside the country. It was his first brush with him with movie stars with whom he would be rubbing shoulders in the coming years. With his easy charm, smoothing looks and entertaining ways, he has received admiration abroad. His white shirt would be scribbled on by adoring fans. The one comment that he particularly liked was — Tom Cruise of India. An overnight stay at a friend’s place soon after led to a change in his attitude from him. Roaming around his sprawling home of him, we bumped into an unnecessarily muscular boy. To the reflective what-do-you-do quip, he replied that he was currently struggling in show-biz, but he would make it big soon. “You will see my posters all over town,” he grinned. The statement sounded familiar.
This brief encounter triggered the “if-he-can-why-can’t-you” attitude. Within a fortnight, SSR touched down in the land of dreams. This time to try out something that he had liked since childhood — movies. We spoke for hours and hours, day after day, about how to approach an industry that hardly follows any rule. During these talkathons we agreed on certain things. First, acting is about emoting-on-demand. We all laugh, cry, speak, move, walk and talk everyday. We back up our stories with our body language. Actors do it on demand because they get paid for it. Second, the goal of this endeavor has to be to become a bankable star. After all, movies are made at a humongous cost. Only those who can help filmmakers make money would and should survive in the industry. Third, people calling the shots will be abrasive, so one should have the heart to take insults and innuendos sportingly. Fourth, if this career path does not work out, do not take it to heart. Not everything that we want happens. The back-up plan was to open a night club. “With your kind of charm, footfall of the footloose people won’t be a problem,” I used to joke.
But the plan worked spectacularly well. In no time his posters of him were all over the town. The police did arrive to manage his ecstatic fans of him. We took immense pride in his success — delivering something as elusive as stardom in an industry as unpredictable as Bollywood. What we never planned for was his sudden exit from him. Perhaps he trusted people too easily, and he could not spot predators.
It needs all your strength to deal with the death of a young and famous person. The sense of loss is immense. And the option to just forget it is not there. Posters are still all over the town. Reminiscing about him we often think of what more he could have done, what else he could have become.
(The writer is Additional DGP, Haryana and SSR’s brother-in-law)