Taking off from our last conversation (published on June 28/29), you had said that Sushant and you go back a long time. You even went and visited his father in Patna. However, after that, the narrative has changed. His family has come forth and said that they don’t know you. Most people have not bought the point that you and Sushant were close friends. What is the truth?
Sushant was a popular TV star. We met in 2011 and I had offered him the show ‘Saraswatichandra’. He said he does not want to do shows and wants to get into movies. I liked his honesty and he liked the fact that I told him to focus on making a career in films. That is how we became friends. We travelled together, we had meals together and several of them over the years. But there was no occasion in his family where he took me and introduced me to his folks. There was never a time when they were down in Mumbai and he introduced me to them. We had never been introduced, so how will they know me? Is it necessary that if we are friends with a star, their entire family has to know us? I just want to say — my friendship was deep, and it dates back years. People have been questioning it so badly that I was forced to put out my private chats with Sushant on social media, to just tell people that we were friends. My silence has been misconstrued as my weakness; people have pointed too many fingers at my family and at me. I didn’t want to put up with it anymore. Hence, I am breaking my silence. I thought shayad kuch din mein yeh sab rukega, lekin log thamne ka naam nahi le rahe…Main bheed ka hissa banne gaya tha Sushant ke ghar. No one had personally called and told me that he’s no more. I also saw it on TV, then, Mahesh Shetty and I travelled together over there in my car. I thought many people, including his friends from the industry will come. It was just Mahesh and me. If I saw a sister alone in this situation, when the family was scattered all over, should I have thought of my career, my body language, how I look or how I gesture someone with a thumbs-up? Should I have fled from the scene? What wrong did I do by helping a family that was grieving a severe loss? I don’t know them, and they don’t know me, but is that a crime? Is that important? Main to uss maiyyat mein bhi kaandha deta hoon jisko main nahi jaanta, yeh to mera yaar tha… I don’t understand what is the problem if I arranged for his funeral and took on responsibilities while his family was away? Are we now implying that if we see someone in trouble, we should scoot, because trying to help someone can land us in trouble? Insaniyat ki nahi, kamzori aur buzdili ki haar honi chahiye.
In the last 20 days, you were captured on a news channel dodging the camera crew and fleeing the scene in a car. It was also said that you wanted to leave this country for good. News channels were chasing you and you kept yourself away from everyone. Your colleague, Shekhar Suman even said that if you are honest, you must not hide…
When did I try to run away? I spoke to you right after his funeral. Even before the family could speak, I spoke to the press openly about as much as I could. Even before debates happened. Main kahan bhaaga bhai? If I had done something wrong, I would not have spoken out. I am a filmmaker, and I have a zillion other things to attend to apart from giving media bytes. The times are such that people are unwell, friends have been facing troubles on the health front, I have responsibilities to tend to. I was asked for interviews, I gave them. But eventually, people started accusing me, people started questioning everything I had said, usko todke marodke uske meanings nikaalne shuru ho gaye… Am I here to answer every Tom, Dick and Harry on what they think of how I sat in the car, how I looked at them…News without proof is being shown on TV. It seems the ED had summoned me. Who has seen the summon? Where is it? I just helped his sister who was alone tending to paperwork in the city. The police and the ED would have called me if they had found something to question me over. I stood with the family through thick and thin for three days. There are visuals of that, and people are busy questioning me about it? Gunehgar maan liya mujhe? Show me another person who did what I did for his family? I was shocked that no one from the industry showed up at his house or at the hospital. Some people came to the funeral. People have been targeting me to get TRPs, views, likes, followers.
After your interview, Rhea Chakraborty, Samuel Haokip and several others have stepped forward to say that Sushant never mentioned you to them in the time that they were with him.
In one and a half years, I was busy making films and so was he. He had his projects that kept him occupied, I had my own production ventures to look into. The PM Modi biopic required a lot of effort and my 100 per cent focus. Friends go out of touch when they have work. Are you perpetually talking to the same set of friends who you were with in class 10 or in college? Are you regularly in touch with everyone? Perhaps, no! Practically, it’s not possible. Just because we had not been in touch for a year or more, and he had not told me things, should I not have gone to his house when I learnt of his demise? Should I have forgotten our good old days and thought about…log kya kahenge? Police pooch taach karegi? Should I have chickened out thinking about social media pressures? Should I have rehearsed my body-language and other things before going there? I kept quiet to see how far people go!
Why did you wait for so long to address the allegations against you?
I spoke, didn’t I on the last two occasions? Main sehm gaya! My friends, mom and family reprimanded me for being there for Sushant’s family. They said, “You have made a mistake by going there. You should not have gone there. Tune to aa bail mujhe maar wala kaam kar diya. Baaki industrywale, his friends are intelligent, but you are an emotional fool to go and help.’ I got scared, darr gaya main. I want to make films and I have a career ahead. So, I became quiet. But for the last 20 days, there are media people with cameras outside my building, as if I am some fugitive. I am trying to lead a normal life, I continued with my movements, but people have crossed their limits. They are showing footages of my car and asking …main kahan bhaag raha hoon! Kahan bhaag raha hoon, batao?
But speculations are that you were planning to flee the country…
Am I some most wanted criminal, some sort of a fugitive that I will run away from here? I have given 20 years to this industry. I have studied in a Hindi medium school, I have sold ice-creams before becoming a journalist, a company CEO and eventually, an independent producer. Mira Road mein raha, CEO ki naukri ki to learn filmmaking because I did not have the resources to go and formally learn it. Uske baad, I have worked on my own and started my company and made four modest films on my own steam. Should I let it all go? Why should I? Why should I flee the country? I stood with my friend’s family, unlike others who chose to stay indoors. That is not a crime!
The ambulance driver has been in the news for being in constant contact with you. Your CDR has been accessed and now he is being questioned by the CBI…
Meri toh izzat tak ko nahi baksha gaya! When people started writing nonsense about my mother is when I could not take it and I decided to speak up. Social media has been so unkind. I am breaking my silence because of that. Did anyone ever think that mujhpe aur Mahesh Shetty pe kya guzri hogi? People who didn’t know him, and, are not his friends or associates are screaming on national debates that I should be arrested. My question is for what?
You were handling all the procedures around his funeral, and out of the blue people saw you there. Since then, people have gone from calling it a PR activity to raising suspicion over your role in his life and his sudden demise. It’s said that after the ambulance driver, it’s your turn with the CBI…
Please tell me, when have I not made myself available to any officer from any department to answer their questions? I am ready to face anyone to get justice for Sushant. I was demanding a CBI probe in my interviews. A parallel media trial is working like it’s above the Supreme Court and the CBI. I am ready to face the CBI. Why not! I have already gone through a round of questioning. I cannot disclose the conversation, but they have been asking all the questions that people have been asking me anyway and I have not hidden a thing from them.
You are also being connected with Disha Salian’s death…
My last chat with her happened in 2017. She had come to my office – as a cornerstone employee – to discuss a project for an actor she was representing. The meeting was coordinated by my office staff. Then, I heard she has died by suicide on June 9. That is all.
When was the last time you spoke with Sushant?
It was a normal chat, 1.5 years ago before I started making the PM Modi biopic. Yes, we used to chat on messages a lot prior to that. Even Vande Bharatam was being planned around that time.
With the drugs angle and the mental health angles being probed, did you know that Sushant consumed any substances or that he had a mental health issue?
We had a respectful friendship. He never did such things in front of me. If he did anything behind my back, I wouldn’t know. The Sushant I saw and knew was a sharp, intelligent actor, a great dancer, writer, reader and someone who enjoyed learning new things. If you read our chats, you would know that we met over meals, not drinks. That was not the tonality of what we shared.
Surjeet Singh Rathore, who had apparently announced a film with Sushant and alleged that you were a ‘mastermind’ in this case, has spoken of a Dubai connection.
He needs to be clear about who he is first. He got publicity, he announced a film on Sushant and now where has he gone? When we were to take Sushant’s body for cremation, the police saw him and asked me who he was. I said I didn’t know him. Sushant’s jijaji OP Singh’s team was already there to help with things. The next thing I know, he is on TV and making accusations. He made the most of the publicity he got. His comments are being taken seriously even without someone checking on his credentials. And Dubai connection! There was a pic of me with Ranveer and Deepika and another man, who they had identified as Dawood! It turned out to be a production designer who has credible work to his name. He had to step forward and identify himself.
What has this entire phase meant for you?
There is pain and anger – thousands of people calling me with suggestions and thank God I didn’t listen to them. I am suffering and I know what I am going through. My family is asking me to leave this industry and work somewhere else. My mother and sister have suffered in silence. People are hitting my car when it gets out of the compound. The society is asking me to vacate my flat. People have tried to barge into my house with cameras. For what? What have I done? Lot of people know what I have done, why can’t they speak up? Everyone is waiting for me to break my silence. I did that twice. This is the third time. Talking to the press, it feels like I am in the Supreme Court answering questions. I feel like I’m facing a trial. I have spoken the truth, and I am still answering allegations which are baseless, levelled by people who seek publicity. I will definitely take legal action against those people who have troubled me for no reason.
Now, in hindsight, was the silence worth it?
If you ever step into my shoes you will know how it feels to keep hearing one allegation after another and to digest it before another one comes flying at you. Today, I do feel that maybe going and standing with the family was wrong. Maybe, I should have acted selfish and not gone there to stand with them in their time of need.