The TV industry is yet to recover from the shock of Pratyusha Banerjee’s suicide on April 1. The 24-year-old actress, who became a household name after her portrayal of Aanandi in TV show Balika Vadhu, was found hanging in her Goregaon residence (Pratyusha Banerjee- Anandi of Balika Vadhu- commits suicide,April 1).
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While her boyfriend Rahul Raj Singh has been charged with abetment of suicide (Just In: Rahul Raj Singh charged with abetment of suicide in Pratyusha case, April 5), career low and mounting debts are also said to have pushed Pratyusha into taking the extreme step.
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Exactly 23 years from today, another life was cut short tragically when Divya Bharati, Bollywood’s youngest superstar, died after falling from the window ledge of her 5th floor Versova home. While Divya’s death is widely believed to be an accident, her family had claimed that the 19-year-old was under depression.
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Pratyusha’s is not an isolated case in showbiz -- Jiah Khan, Viveka Babajee, Nafisa Joseph, Kuljeet Randhawa, Silk Smitha… the list is rather too long. A hollow lifestyle, an extremely demanding profession, the pressures of being under constant scrutiny… what makes young stars, especially actresses, so vulnerable?
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Renowned psychiatrist Dr Yusuf Matcheswalla says: “When it comes to suicides, the number of women is twice that of men. That’s because they are more sensitive, vulnerable and emotional. Several youngsters migrate to Metros from small towns, leaving their families behind. Once they find work and develop a social circle, a lot of them lose touch with their kin and the realities of life. Phir, depression ka shikaar banne mein time nahi lagta because, they tend to lose their way and not find it again. Depression, personality and temperamental issues and being unable to seek help causes loss of life.”
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Deepika Padukone hit headlines last year, after opening up about her battle with depression. Anushka Sharma has also talked about seeking professional help for anxiety. While Dippy and Anushka did not shy away from seeking help, Pratyusha decided otherwise.
Sunjoy Wadhwa, the producer of Balika Vadhu, recalls: “Pratyusha didn’t keep in touch after leaving our show. She could connect instantly with the audience. She was doing well, but not everyone can handle too much, too soon. She then quit the show for better prospects. I wanted her to do well, but her sudden demise has left us in shock.”
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While lack of work began to drain Pratyusha monetarily, her troubled love life with Rahul left her in an emotional mess.
Popular TV actress Juhi Parmar of Kumkum fame explains: “Strong support from family, stable love life and financial success can help you go a long way. I bought a house at 24 so that I have a roof over my head if and when work dries up. I was fortunate that good sense prevailed early on in my life. I was 17 when I became a heroine. I could have gone astray with all that money.”
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Juhi adds, “I don’t know Pratyusha well, but it’s a tough life in the TV industry with thousands of actors trying to find their space in a handful of shows. The industry is far more competitive than it ever was. Those who make it big at a young age get carried away with their fancy lifestyle, not realising that it will be difficult to maintain that when work stops coming in.”
Nivedita Basu, the former creative head of Balaji Telefilms who has become an independent TV producer with Meri Awaaz Hi Pehchaan Hai, agrees with Juhi. “After playing leads, no one is keen to play secondary roles. When experienced actors demand fewer hours and a fatter pay packet, new faces are hired. If the show clicks, there’s instant fame, but it withers once the show wraps up. There are only a handful of artistes who stay grounded and humble even after achieving fame, and they are the true survivors,” she points out.
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Nivedita goes on: “It’s a pressure-bound industry. I often see young actors cutting off ties with family, entering intense relationships, sidelining everything and allowing loneliness to creep in. They end up resorting to addictions as an escape route. They don’t realise that if they have friends and family by their side, they won’t need to seek help outside.”
However, TV producer Manish Goswami and actress Achint Kaur argue that the issue is not showbiz-specific. “I don’t agree that limelight or the lack of it kills. Suicide is a drastic step and there can’t ever be a single thing causing it. It’s helplessness in any sphere that pushes someone to that dark corner. Even the corporate world is full of pressure and many succumb to it. We don’t know what caused Pratyusha’s suicide. It could an amalgamation of many reasons; why blame the spotlight for it?” asks Achint.
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Manish, who has produced shows like Kitty Party, chips in, “A lone migrant can feel empty in any professional domain, but something has to be drastically wrong for a person to attempt suicide. I don’t think Pratyusha had any dearth of work, but yes, younger actors must learn to accept success and failure equally.”
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Is there a way out? Crime Patrol anchor Anoop Soni believes that younger actors and actresses should be counselled by their production houses about the pros and cons of instant fame.
“A senior actor once told me to buy a house instead of changing my car. He told me that the car won’t help when work dries up. The idea is to prioritise needs and luxuries. Youngsters may not like older actors like me giving them bhashans on this, but this is the key to survival,” he says.
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“Communication is the key. Be cautious about the friends you make. I wish Pratyusha had called up her friends or parents, the way she used to for her birthday parties every year. We could have reached out to her,” Anoop signs off.
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