The Hindi film industry is used to life in the arc lights of fame and glory, but the death of Sushant Singh Rajput has turned the spotlight firmly on the dark side of Bollywood. The controversy surrounding the death of the talented star seems to have opened a pandora’s box of nepotism, bullying, elite clubs, and even drug abuse and trafficking.
Many in Bollywood have been dragged into the drug cartel controversy as top actors and actresses were summoned by the police and the Narcotics Control Bureau. However, the involvement of Bollywood in an illegal drug nexus is just one of the many dark layers of the web of deceit woven so skillfully by the industry’s high and mighty.
The toxic work culture in the industry has been called out by many in recent reports which revealed how Bollywood operates on a drug-induced high, with the cast doing “lines” during film shootings and stars dancing at weddings and functions after a shot of pot.
While the drug controversy has gained momentum in recent times, doing drugs while working and running an illegal drug cartel as a side business is not the only issue ailing Bollywood. There are many structural injustices in the industry, given the well-defined hierarchy of stars, actors, character actors and junior artists that decides the level of respect and pay an artist can command in the industry. The lack of pay parity, gender equality in the industry as well as the lack of social diversity in its cinema only goes to show that Bollywood is far from being the flagbearer of idealism that it seems to uphold on screen.
It is quite ironic that some so-called feminists in the industry champion women characters onscreen but find themselves in sexual harassment and physical abuse controversies offscreen. Despite the “Me Too” movement in 2018 calling out so many well-known men in the industry for subjecting women to discrimination, humiliation and abuse, the fact that the industry was more than willing to rehabilitate such tainted personalities and was quick to bury controversies says a lot about the tilted power balance in Bollywood owing to money and power.
Apart from the horror stories of many aspiring actors and actresses from the “outside”, many singers, dancers, choreographers, and voice artists too have tales of the toxic work culture in the industry. Even in the music industry, many top artists have raised their voice against the practice of only two or three major record labels controlling the revenue of the entire audio industry and deciding the fate of upcoming singers in the country. There is also a lot of politics in the music industry, which robs many deserving singers of opportunities to shine.
There have even been allegations of playback singers not getting paid for their songs as most music directors and producers believe the production of a hit song can be considered the singer’s due since singers can capitalise on the song by performing it at concerts or weddings. Reports such as these only go to show that the industry is plagued by many ills, and it must address some of these valid criticisms if it hopes for redemption.