‘A Tragic Soap Opera’: Foreign Media On Indian TV’s SSR Obsession

The spectacle that is the Sushant Singh Rajput death case has now garnered the attention of international press.

3 min read
The international media too took note of actor Sushant Singh Rajput’s death and reported on it in June.

Actor Sushant Singh Rajput breathed his last on 14 June 2020. It has been over three months since then, and several Indian TV news channels have turned the tragic death into a primetime debate almost on a daily basis. Issues like the ongoing pandemic, shrinking of the economy or the border tension with China took a back seat as the Bollywood star’s death became the national obsession.

The international media, too, took note of the actor’s death and reported on it in June. But that’s where their coverage stopped until the media frenzy over the issue caught their attention in September.

Here’s what they had to say:

The Economist

The Economist’s latest issue published on 17 September covered the media frenzy in its story titled “A real-life Bollywood tragedy becomes a political farce”.

“The suicide provoked a media frenzy.”
The Economist

The piece talks about how the actor’s death and subsequent coverage became political in states that have an election coming up, like Bihar and West Bengal.

"The more sensationalist news channels trained their sights on Rhea Chakraborty, a 28-year-old actress and Mr Rajput’s girlfriend, turning her into the villain of the piece. Politicians, too, swiftly spotted opportunities," The Economist article said.


CNN International too covered the actor’s death in June and then later did a story on 10 September titled, “Her Bollywood actor boyfriend’s death prompted a media firestorm. Now, she’s been arrested on alleged drug offences.”

“... the coverage has often become sensationalist, with unverified conspiracy theories and allegations given air time on nationwide newscasts.”


The BBC news discussed India’s obsession with the Rajput death case in a story on 10 September titled “Rhea Chakraborty: Why is Indian TV obsessed with Sushant Singh Rajput's death?”

“But in the case of Rajput’s death, nuance has been lost in much of the coverage in Indian media, which has drawn on speculation and unsubstantiated leaks to paint Chakraborty as a villain. Her relationship and finances have been under investigation for weeks...,” the BBC said.

Unlike other international news organisations, BBC had previously reported on the media trials of Rajput’s ex-girlfriend Rhea Chakraborty.


The Guardian

British news and media website, The Guardian, talked about the issue in an article written by the publication’s South Asia correspondent, titled “Sushant Singh Rajput: actor's death fuels media frenzy in India”.

The 12 September article had this to say:

“... the spectacle it has morphed into since – involving misogyny, drugs, money, media witch-hunts, feuds, police leaks, federal investigations, state elections and the arrest of a Bollywood star – has become an unprecedented national obsession, with everyone from senior politicians to Amnesty International wading in.”

Financial Times

Financial Times, too, published an article called, “Indian TV news serves up a potboiler to distract from national malaise” on 8 September. The report says the case is a “tragic and disgusting soap opera”.

“But television news channels have limited appetite for such grim topics. For weeks, they have devoted airtime to distracting viewers from their woes with the probe into the death of popular actor Sushant Singh Rajput. Public obsession with the saga is reminiscent of the way the O.J. Simpson murder trial captivated the US in the mid-1990s.”
Financial Times

The case is still under investigation by three central agencies - Central Bureau of Investigation. Enforcement Directorate and Narcotics Control Bureau.

The NCB arrested Rhea Chakraborty on 14 June on charges of drug procurement and consumption. Other charges leveled against her were that of abatement to suicide and money laundering. Several other arrests have been made in the case by NCB including that of Rhea’s brother and Rajput’s former house manager.

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