When the trailer of a Hindi film to be premiered on an OTT platform gets 10 million views despite an unknown heroine and a new director, you know it’s the hero who’s powering it. Especially when he is Sushant Singh Rajput who passed away so tragically on 14 June, and this is his last-ever screen appearance.
It happened when Meena Kumari passed away – there was a spike in the collections of Pakeezah which was in the theatres then.
“Now when people watch my film, their reaction is going to be very different because the whole meaning of the film has changed with the hero gone,” nods Mukesh Chhabra whose directorial debut titled Dil Bechara premieres on Disney+Hotstar on Friday, 24 June.
Described as “an achingly sad love story of two teenagers with terminal cancer,” author John Green’s novel, The Fault In Our Stars which turned into one of the highest-grossing movies of 2014, was the book that touched all the right emotions when Chhabra was looking for a film to direct.
The Fault In Our Stars earned a worldwide total of $307.2 million, against a production budget of $12 million. Indianised with music and dance by Chhabra, the story serves a tear-jerking love story+tragedy platter. It is a goosebumps-giving coincidence that Sushant Singh Rajput’s last bow on screen is a tragedy.
“I also keep thinking about it,” admits Mukesh Chhabra, the casting director who got Sushant his first break in Hindi cinema in the much-acclaimed Kai Po Che! That too was based on a bestselling book, Chetan Bhagat’s 3 Mistakes Of My Life.
When Sushant had auditioned for the part of Ishaan in Abhishek (Gattu) Kapoor’s Kai Po Che!, “It was his natural charm and smile that made me go for him,” remembers Chhabra. After he had auditioned Sushant, Amit Sadh, and Rajkummar Rao for the three main roles, Chhabra also did a screen test of all three heroes together. And their chemistry was so palpable that he showed the results to Gattu who endorsed his casting director’s choice.
More uncomfortable coincidences – “He died in Kai Po Che! too. So in both, my first film with him and in my last, Sushant has had a tragic end.” Eerily, death visited his character Lakhna in Sonchiriya too.
But when there’s been an actual heart-tugging death, it’s poignant that his last film also wraps up on a sob note and is on release. “It’s the irony of life,” remarks Chhabra. “When you make such a film, it’s unimaginable that your hero won’t be there at the end of it.
“We started the film on 19 July 2018 and in these two years, everything has changed. I’m still trying to figure out what exactly happened (to Sushant). Right now when I’m completely absorbed in getting the final copy of Dil Bechara ready for delivery to Hotstar and I’m watching the scenes and the songs every day, it’s difficult to believe what has happened.”
Sushant was absolutely aware that his film was going to be on OTT, says Chhabra, “And he was happy with the decision because everybody wants their film to be seen.
“The way the pandemic is heading, I don’t think the average person will spend money to go watch films in theatres,” foresees Mukesh. “Theatres were opened in China but nobody went to them and they had to shut down again. People will be scared to go to the theatre, they care for their lives.
“It’s going to take more than a year for films to be watched in theatres again. It’s the best time for films to come on OTT, for people to watch a film with the family on a limited budget.”
A harsh truth is also what’s known in politics as a sympathy wave that wins elections. Like Rajiv Gandhi’s landslide 404+10 seats victory in 1984 in the aftermath of his mother’s tragic assassination. There is a similar strong wave of sentimentality to wave Sushant goodbye.
This is not to say that Rajiv Gandhi wouldn’t have won otherwise. Nor is it a comment on Dil Bechara as a film. It’s an undeniable human reaction to a tragedy.