The first thing that struck me about Sushant Singh Rajput were his bright eyes and unusual eyelashes. He squeezed them a bit when he thought deeply or tried to grasp something.
They were long and curled, unlike how you’d imagine for a male film star in Bollywood. He probably got them from his mother, and kept them closed as I sat next to him explaining the special TV show we were about to shoot.
We had just landed in Imphal, his crew and ours, and we had to start rolling as soon as he was done hearing the plan. He kept saying “go on” and nodded in a celebrity like fashion before he finally opened his eyes and we were ready to go.
Our car ride from the airport to the hotel was about 45 minutes long. We chatted about everything from his career in television to his love for martial arts. In this little while he’d shed his layer of stardom and what we saw was a humble middle class boy with dreamy eyes. Some of the dreams you knew he’d fulfilled while some were yet to come true.
The shoot lasted for about two days and the whole crew managed to make memories with Sushant. As a television presenter I always remember the best and worst of the guests and co-anchors. Sushant’s untimely demise broke my heart like many others. But just like his films, there are some things I shall never forget about him.
He followed his dream:
Sushant was probably the only person I met who’d chosen to be an actor instead of pursuing an engineering degree after getting selected. It was even more surprising because he was a brilliant student who ranked seventh in Delhi College of Engineering. Leaving his college midway, Sushant decided to focus on his dance and theatre and never regretted that decision.
“Even if I’d score a hundred out of hundred on the marksheet, I could only see two zeros there, and not the ‘one’ that stood next to them. I want to entertain people and hear the sound of applause” he said.
He wanted to be remembered as a superstar:
Having been the lead actor in popular TV series “Pavitra Rishta”, Sushant always knew he could win hearts. But he dreamt of being larger than life. He laughed at himself when he revealed his secret of going to malls for a stroll, just to see how many heads he could turn. Sushant went to the famous choreographer Shiamak Davar to learn how to dance like a star. He picked up the nuances of acting from a maestro like Nadira Babbar. How deep his love for acting was is clearly understood from the fact that he didn’t shy away from the unglamorous role in Kai Po Che or the second lead in PK. In fact “Sarfaraz, dhokha nahi dega” became a part of his identity. “Everytime India plays Pakistan on the cricket field, my phone is full of these Sarfaraz jokes” he would say.
He could hit a helicopter shot as well as Dhoni:
Of all the films he did, MS Dhoni’s biopic was what most people knew him for. Sushant had spent months to turn himself into a living apparition of the former Indian cricket captain. Not many people know that Sushant trained under former India wicketkeeper Kiran More to become a complete doppelganger of Dhoni. “(Kiran) More Sir initially rejected me, he said ‘Nahi kar paaega’ and that’s what I took as a challenge”. Sushant was treated like any other cricketer at Kiran More Cricket Academy where he mastered every shot Mahi would play on the cricket field. In fact Sushant probably had watched and practiced the ‘helicopter shot’ so many times that he achieved excellence in that. You ask for it and he would hit it, which he actually did on our show.
He wished his mother was always by his side.
Between everything that he achieved, Sushant was still the boy who missed his mother and craved her presence in every joy and sorrow. He lost her many years ago while he was still a student and that deeply affected him. I got to know of a poem that he wrote for her. It said ‘she broke the promise she’d once made, that she’s never going to leave him alone’. Sushant’s last post on Instagram had his mother and himself together.
We might never be able to understand Sushant Singh Rajput’s pain. We’ll always wonder what could break a game changer like him at a promising age of 34. Was it failure, was it depression that drove him to the brink? How could he walk out on everything he had, midway. People are already speculating that enough on social media, and we should just give the man his final space. His journey of a background dancer to a superstar in B-town will always be remembered for years to come fondly through the brilliant cinema that he created in a very short span of time. Just like my favourite lines from his movie song, ‘Chaar qadam bass chaar qadam, chal do naa saath mere’. And for now, let’s just pray he is in a better place.
(Afshan Anjum is a television presenter and senior journalist. She anchored the popular show ‘Jai Jawan’ with Sushant Singh Rajput on NDTV in 2017)