Television actress Pratyusha Banerjee’s death serves as an opportunity yet again for the entertainment media and commentators to unleash their inner voyeurs and misogynists. In the garb of opinion pieces and investigative reports that allegedly piece together Banerjee’s personal life, the dead woman is being dragged into the muck in a macabre fashion, with so-called friends and well-wishers sharing graphic details of her corpse and salacious stories about her love affairs before hungry cameras.
Long essays are being written about how the 24-year-old actress mismanaged her career and personal life, leading to her apparent suicide. Self-styled social anthropologists and pop psychologists are busy playing join-the-dots. One article even described the death as a manifestation of the “Jamshedpur syndrome”. She was one of the many women from the famous Indian small town, who failed to make good their initial break in the cut-throat world of entertainment. The list includes former Miss India Tanushree Dutta, who has become a recluse, and National Award winning actress Sweta Prasad, who was named in an sex racket. Yes, even Priyanka Chopra is from Jamshedpur, which explains her former secretary Prakash Jaju’s offensive tweets about her being “suicidal”. How convenient.
Every time a woman is named in a scandal, controversy, or a mysterious death, it becomes imperative for us to get into her head and slap a label on her. We look for the trigger in her professional life. Her hometown and her past are breeding grounds for dark, evil and dismal thoughts. Not a single report about the Sheena Bora murder case forgets to mention that the prime accused, Indrani Mukerjea, is a “small-town girl” who wanted to make it big in the world of the big daddies.
After we are done speaking to “reliable sources” in the police, the housing societies, the security guards with neighbours, former lovers, friends and other anonymous samaritans who feel compelled to share their versions of the truth, we arrive at our own sweeping conclusions. (In Banerjee’s case, the security guard made an earth-shattering revelation: she and her boyfriend, Rahul Raj Singh, had once broken a window pane. Wow!) There, staring at us all this while is the one big culprit – the small-town complex.
The woman from the small town is the latest “type” to be worried about. She is ambitious, hard-working, desperate, emotional, temperamental and thus very, very “dangerous”. Every time you meet a woman who ticks all these boxes, do a quick background check. She must be from a small town. If not, she must be a “hot Bong from Kolkata” or “a Delhi brat”. You know, the “other” types your mother warned you about. Or she may just be called Kangana Ranaut.
Such women make some people very uncomfortable indeed. After all, the small-town women are the ones who are taking the risks and challenging the norms. They are not operating from their parents’ holiday homes or blooming in some European finishing school. So yes, they are vulnerable and prone to making mistakes. After all, even Parveen Babi was from Junagadh. And she was known to be off-kilter, right?
“Small town girl” is more than a convenient epithet. It is a way for the privileged to strike back at what they feel is a potential threat to their entitlement. It is apartheid of another kind. These aspirants live in the far-flung suburbs of Mumbai in Andheri, Malad, Goregaon and Kandivli. They may not be gifted Bentleys for their birthdays by their parents, but they do have the freedom to make their own choices and take risks. Do they have to pay a price for it? Maybe. But surely, depression, criminality and suicidal thoughts are not unique to the free-spirited woman who is not from a metropolis?
Every once in a while, a young woman takes her life in the big city. In 2004, VJ, model and actress Nafisa Joseph killed herself in her apartment in Mumbai. She was 26. Apparently, she had deep-rooted emotional problems. Joseph was from Bangalore and a successful professional. In 2010, the model and actress Viveka Babajee killed herself. She had accused her boyfriend, Gautam Vora, of breaking her heart. Jiah Khan’s controversial death in 2013 is still fresh on everyone’s minds, especially after her former boyfriend Sooraj Pancholi made a high-profile debut in Hero in 2015. Khan was from London. Meanwhile in Delhi, model and event manager Priyanka Kapoor killed herself in March after being allegedly severely abused by her husband.
Each of these stories is tragic. Each of them should be viewed in their immediate and correct context. Each one of us has different thresholds for pain, tolerance, love and generosity. Each one of us has different points of no return. We will never know what really promoted Pratyusha Banerjee to take her life. We can only speculate. There could be many reasons why some of us choose death. But sometimes, all we need is a reason to live.