NEW DELHI: In the aftermath of actor Sushant Singh Rajput’s suicide, a number of Bollywood celebrities such as Karan Johar, Alia Bhatt, Sonam Kapoor, Sonakshi Sinha, Ananya Pandey and others have been trolled on social media for perpetuating nepotism in the film industry that leaves little room for outsiders. Consequently, some of these people have turned off user comments on their Instagram handles, with Sinha deactivating her Twitter account altogether.
Rajput, who committed suicide earlier this month, it is speculated, was thrown out of several high-profile projects and never got his due from an industry that did not see him as one of its own. Film critics and filmmaker also pointed to Bollywood’s toxic work culture that’s unsympathetic to outsiders.
“As the nepotism debate rages on, this is sensitive time. A star is dead. Allegations are flying all over. In many ways, shutting off the social media tap on such occasions is an idea itself. It helps cool frayed nerves and get off," said Harish Bijoor, brand strategy specialist and founder, Harish Bijoor Consults Inc on why stars may choose to snap fan engagement for now.
The advent of social media has given formerly inaccessible, larger-than-life stars a way to connect directly with their fans, often focusing on the mundane aspects of their lives. However, incidents like Rajput’s death or the recent attack on Sonam Kapoor for equating her privileged life to past karma give netizens an opportunity to point out what they see as obvious flaws.
“Social media is a medium of choice. You get onto it when you want to and get off when you choose to," Bijoor added. “For a celebrity of high visibility and high troll-attack rate, it’s quite like riding a tiger. And that's how it seems today."
However, Lulu Raghavan, brand expert and managing director, Landor Associates pointed out that social media is a double-edged sword and you can’t just be there for the adoration.
“Shutting yourself out is not an answer because it just helps people cast more aspersions. Especially since you’ve chosen to put yourself out there," Raghavan said adding that a lot of celebrities have consciously stayed away from social media. In Hollywood, actors like Scarlett Johansson and Jennifer Lawrence have refused to join networking platforms as have their Bollywood counterparts like Saif Ali Khan and Ranbir Kapoor.
That said, it is important for a brand to learn to deal with negativity, Raghavan pointed out. After the 2015 controversy on falling short of food safety standards, Maggi noodles, for instance, made sure it left no stone unturned to convince consumers their three-decade old snack was as safe as it had always been, with print and TV campaigns. As did Cadbury, after a stockist in Mumbai found worms in its chocolates in 2003. More recently, food aggregator Zomato responded to the video of a rider eating food meant for a customer and resealing the packet with a long apology note and the promise to introduce tamper-proof tapes.
Raghavan added that the Rajput incident had kicked up the perfect storm in the middle of the covid-19 pandemic when people are already depressed and anxious.
“One way to overcome pain is to find an external reason for it," she said referring to his suicide being attributed to lack of acceptance by a close-knit industry.