Pratyusha Banerjee: A Girl in the Necropolis

Pratyusha Banerjee: A Girl in the Necropolis
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The death of Pratyusha Banerjee and the instincts of a voyeur nation

IF THERE WAS a line, even a fine one, that separated the reel from the real, then you saw it dissolving before you with the suicide of a 24-year-old actress. Within a day after Pratyusha Banerjee hanged herself, a recorded telephone conversation began doing the rounds online. It featured Dolly Bindra haranguing the sobbing mother of the deceased actress, asking details about the suicide. Soon, a video of Bindra with the actress’ dead body, apparently captured before it was removed from the house, began circulating via social media. Bindra recorded and leaked the conversation and video for no apparent reason but to gain media time. Bindra was a participant in Bigg Boss, the reality television show that had also seen Banerjee taking part in 2013.

As the days wore on after her death, actress Rakhi Sawant, another participant of Bigg Boss, held a press conference seeking the replacement of ceiling fans in homes by air conditioners because Banerjee had hanged herself on one. When asked how the poor would be able to afford the switch, Sawant said that a table fan could be an effective replacement too.

Banerjee’s death has had many wild theories, from her allegedly being done in by her boyfriend, to her being driven to suicide because she was pregnant and financially broke; all of them fed by actors she had worked with. Some television personalities are reported to have appeared before cameras accompanied with makeup artists to comment on the suicide.

Do we allow ourselves anger and condescension for such pathetic exploitation of a death? But consider also that
when Dolly Bindra and Rakhi Sawant perform for the cameras, they do so in the sure knowledge of an audience

One actress, it is reported, rushed out of the hospital where Banerjee’s body was taken and where most of the media had then gathered, screamed and fainted just in time for a brawny television actor to scoop her in his arms, all of this unfolding in front of cameras. In one press conference, two television personalities—Sheetal Malviya, a business partner of Banerjee’s boyfriend, and actress Heer Patel—were stopped from coming on to the dais by the actors who had organised the event. When asked why, the organisers told the tabloid Mumbai Mirror, “It didn’t make sense as they were not as popular as the others.”

Do we allow ourselves anger and condescension for such pathetic exploitation of death? But consider also that when Bindra and Sawant perform for the cameras while making the most of a tragedy, they do so in the sure knowledge of an audience. Ever since the advent of reality television, we have become a nation of voyeurs. It takes the death of a reality television actress to tell us exactly how far we have travelled along this road. It is we who egg participants on to push the boundaries of acceptable social behaviour—the reason that reality shows become most successful when their participants are the most offensive.

None of this should shock us now. The format has merely expanded to jump from the screen to right in front of you in all its ugly surreality.