Political Mudslinging in India Following Bollywood Actor’s Mysterious Death

Political Mudslinging in India Following Bollywood Actor’s Mysterious Death

MUMBAI, India—Political and social groups are raising questions about the death of popular Indian actor Sushant Singh Rajput, who was found hanged in his Mumbai apartment on June 14. Speculation about his death, which police reported as accidental, has ranged from alleged suicide to suspected murder.

The Central Bureau of Investigation – the Indian equivalent of the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation — officially took over the case on Aug. 19 with permission from the Supreme Court of India. A three-member Special Investigative Team was designated to investigate the case.

Rajput, 34, was one of the few actors to successfully transition from Indian television to the Hindi film industry. His last film “Dil Bechara” which was released posthumously on Disney+Hotstar, got 95 million views in 24 hours.

In the immediate aftermath of Rajput’s death, the Mumbai police, who report to the Maharashtra state government, undertook the investigation. However, the case soon turned political when members of the Bharatiya Janata Party, the ruling party in charge of India’s central government, accused the police of botching the investigation.

“The inquest was inconclusive and paradoxical with no uniformity of detail,” said Ashish Shelar, a BJP member of the Legislative Assembly from Mumbai. “We do not have a problem with the Mumbai police as an institution, just this investigation.”

 

The Maharashtra government is made up of a coalition between the Shiv Sena, the Indian National Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party.

The Shiv Sena, a right-wing nationalist party, used to be an ally of the BJP. But in October 2019, the long-standing collaboration ended after Shiv Sena formed a coalition with BJP’s biggest political opposition — the Congress parties — to form a government in Maharashtra.

“As soon as the accidental death report was filed, 56 people were summoned for questioning,” said Priyanka Chaturvedi, member of Parliament in the Rajya Sabha, the Upper House, and deputy leader of Shiv Sena.

“Rajput’s family was summoned for their statement and when his father arrived for the final rites, he suspected nobody and that is what his statement claims,” said Chaturvedi. His sister, Shweta Singh Kirti, did not suspect anyone or any wrongdoing, he said, and Rajput’s brother-in-law, an Indian Police Service officer, “OP Singh was also present when the statement was taken in the presence of the entire family.”

A month after Rajput’s death, a social media campaign—powered by the actor’s fans, family, and some high-ranking Indian politicians—rejected the suicide theory and called for an impartial government agency to investigate his death.

The actor’s family filed a police complaint in the actor’s hometown, Patna, in the eastern Indian state of Bihar, on July 28, asking for a CBI investigation.

A fringe political party, the Shri Rajput Karni Sena, held a candlelight march in New Delhi on Aug. 16, with hundreds of people, demanding a CBI inquiry in the case.

The initial Mumbai police probe focussed on the actor’s mental state. The actor’s therapist Susan Walker Moffat, a clinical psychologist, psychotherapist and hypnotherapist who practices in Mumbai, revealed that Rajput was suffering from depression and bipolar disorder.

Some hints about the actor being depressed because he had lost out on key film projects led to a number of people in the film industry being questioned by the Mumbai police.

After Rajput’s family filed a First Information Report, the case took a different turn. That document is typically filed when police receive information about the commission of a cognizable offense.

The report filed by Rajput’s father, KK Singh, alleges that Rajput’s girlfriend, actor Rhea Chakraborty, and her family siphoned at least INR 15 crore ($150 million) from the actor’s bank accounts.

“The family wanted a criminal investigation; instead, they got an inquest and (a focus on) Bollywood,” said Vikas Singh, the lawyer representing the Singh family. “We decided to file the FIR in Patna so we could approach the Central Bureau of Investigation,” he said.

The FIR was eventually filed after Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar stepped in. The state is currently ruled by a Janta Dal United and BJP coalition. Bihar is slated to have legislative elections in October-November to form a state government.

Singh, however, discredits any political conspiracy theories about BJP using Rajput’s death to disrupt the upcoming assembly elections in Bihar.

“The CBI is examining the case and collecting information,” said Singh.

Chakraborty is being investigated by the Indian Directorate of Enforcement, an independent law enforcement and economic intelligence agency.

Chakraborty has alleged harassment from trolls online. She also filed a plea with the Supreme Court calling for a stop to what she calls an “unfair media trial.”

(Edited by Siddharthya Roy and Judy Isacoff.)



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Bollywood’s $1 Billion Box Office Meltdown

Bollywood’s $1 Billion Box Office Meltdown

MUMBAI, India—Box office receipts—which determine a film’s success or failure based on cinema occupancy and ticket sales—did not see a rise in cumulative collections for the first time in five years.

Trade analysts had projected a total earning of Rs 10,000 crore (more than $1 billion U.S. dollars) for the year, based on the announced film releases.

Instead, the Indian film industry has reported an estimated loss of Rs 5,000 crore ($667 million in U.S. dollars) after five months of the coronavirus lockdown, which closed cinemas. The figure takes into consideration films released in regional Indian languages like Hindi, Marathi, Telugu, Malayalam, Kannada and Tamil, along with revenue received from films released outside India.

“At the moment, there’s no box office tracking anywhere in the world and I don’t see it coming back,” said Sreedhar Pillai, an independent trade analyst from Chennai, India. “Even if cinemas open, tracking will not resume immediately. The entire country will not open all theatres at the same time.”

He reports that the southern regions are facing losses of Rs 500 crores, approximately $66 million in U.S. dollars.

In spite of Pillai’s bleak outlook, others are hopeful that the film industry will get back on its feet soon.

The country has an estimated 8,000 screens, spread between single-screen cinemas and multiplexes.

“Eventually, theaters will open and I think there’ll be no long-term damage,” said Shailesh Kapoor of Ormax Media, a firm specializing in trade insights. “People will come back to the cinema.”

The industry has taken a huge hit since the national lockdown came into force on March 25. “Angrezi Medium” was the last Hindi film to be released in cinemas on March 13.

“Since March, there have been no film releases,” said Amul Mohan, trade analyst, editor of Super Cinema, and film producer. “There has been a tremendous loss but one can’t really quantify it because no film has been released.”

The estimated loss also includes the costs incurred to hold on to projects that are in post-production stages or ready for release.

One such film is “Sooryavanshi, an action film by Indian director and producer Rohit Shetty.

Part of Shetty’s supercop action franchise that has bagged nearly $63 million in profits since 2011, “Sooryavanshi” has been made on a reported budget of more than Rs 300 crore ($40 million U.S. dollars). Its A-list star cast of Akshay Kumar, Katrina Kaif, Ajay Devgn and Ranveer Singh is expected to lure viewers in droves.

The second film is the highly anticipated sports drama “83 which recounts India’s Cricket World Cup victory in 1983. The film, starring actors Ranveer Singh and Deepika Padukone, was slated for an April 10 release, but has now been pushed to December.

Since movie halls have been shut, a large number of films have premiered on streaming platforms such as Netflix.

Recently, “Gulabo Sitabo“, starring superstar Amitabh Bachchan, premiered on Amazon Prime Video. Since then, more than 10 big-ticket titles have found homes on streaming platforms like Netflix, Zee5, Disney+Hotstar, Sony Live and Amazon Prime Video.

“Sooryavanshi” and “83 alone have accounted for projected losses amounting to more than Rs 600 crore (around $80 million U.S. dollars) and that’s only taking into consideration their domestic theatrical box office collections and the cost to develop the projects.

“There have been no OTT release announcements yet and it’ll be interesting to see if they’ll buckle under pressure or hold on till cinemas open,” Mohan said. He adds that even if cinemas open at some point during the year, they are unlikely to run at full capacity.

Pillai agrees. He cited South Korea, where cinemas opened at the end of April but weren’t selling enough tickets, as people were still scared of contracting the virus.

“There are fixed costs of running a multiplex and a lot of small things that come together to make a cinema run,” Mohan said. “The last I heard, Indian cinemas may open in September, but only at 30% capacity to maintain social distancing.”

All things considered, the costs of a theatrical release would be higher than the revenue earned, affecting cinema owners and distributors.

In some European countries and China, old blockbusters like “Inception” and “Harry Potter (3D)” were re-released to gauge box office potential and did manage to make some money.

However, the Indian film “Simba,” starring Ranveer Singh and part of the same franchise as “Sooryavanshi” was re-released in Australia and Fiji in June and did not do well at the box office.

Since last month, Indian courts have granted permission to television, advertising and films to resume shooting under strict conditions. The industry is slowly finding its lost balance, but for the box office, it’s a long road ahead.

(Edited by Siddharthya Roy and Matt Rasnic.)



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