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Sushant case: Indian media plays judge, jury and executioner Filed on September 1, 2020

Today, there is a Rhea Chakraborty for every imagination

Pandemic and primetime television can be a heady concoction. At a time when many in India are still working from home - possibly glued to the small screen more than ever - a whodunnit is playing out in their living rooms. It involves a dead actor, his grieving family, and former girlfriend. Nearly two months later, it has also come to involve scores of screaming television anchors playing judge, jury, and executioner and many social media users who are offering verdicts by the minute, even as the case continues to be investigated by India's Central Bureau of Investigation. Media trials aren't new to Indian news, but what almost each one of them reveal is the narrow lens with which we view the lives of others. 

Right from the time the news of Indian Bollywood actor Sushant Singh Rajput's death made headlines, it created various talking points. For once, one felt it was important to dissect what nepotism or mental health issues could do to a man underneath the 'star'. That was until Rhea Chakraborty became another angle to the story. Sushant's family has accused Rhea of money laundering and held her responsible for creating a rift between them and Sushant. Rhea broke her silence recently to counter the allegations. While another side to the story has emerged, there are still judgements being pronounced in her media trials, with her body language, tone, and articulateness being called to question. Today, there is a Rhea Chakraborty for every imagination.   

In the three interviews that she has given to the Press, the Chakraborty narrative remains more or less the same. She doesn't cut across the idea of a victim we have ingrained in our minds. She is mostly calm and composed, and occasionally bursts out in tears or anger. If she is firm, she is also evasive. No sooner had the interviews aired than speculations emerged on whether she had already prepared for the interview and if the said channel was in cahoots with her. Here is a woman who has found herself being charged on various grounds for a considerable time. To expect that she would not come prepared for a media interaction is to suggest that a student can appear for board exams without preparation. Rhea owned the narrative she was setting out to tell, as anyone would.

And then came the intense dissection on her choice of clothing. As a popular columnist observed, she had finally ditched the "white salwar kameez, grieving girlfriend look for a more contemporary and casual girl-next-door appearance". If only grief had a dress code! Why does the actress need to wear a particular set of clothing to constantly indicate her sense of loss?

It did not stop there. Her social media critics also found her tone to be a lot less apologetic for a grieving girlfriend, as she asserted that her family had suffered at the hands of media too. Her meticulous details in terms of dates was also called into question, once again completely obliterating the fact that anybody in her position would, in fact, come prepared for a televised onslaught.

The footnote observations that have emerged point to our own limited and highly templated ideas of how a 'victim' or 'perpetrator' should behave. The problem with this exercise is that it undermines our own ability to comprehend the complex individuals we encounter on our television sets or Twitter feeds. And denying complexity is denying objectivity. 


Anamika Chatterjee

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