I remember walking out of the theatre in February 2013, thoroughly impressed after watching Kai Po Che!. I had read the book—The 3 Mistakes of My Life by Chetan Bhagat—on which the movie was based, unfortunately. So, I did not go in with high hopes. But that the team managed to make such a memorable movie from an utterly forgettable book, was worthy of praise.
My favourite character in the movie was Sushant Singh Rajput's Ishaan. At that point, I was unaware that Rajput was a successful TV star. He may be one to watch out for, I thought. Apparently, Yash Raj Films thought so, too, and signed him. The future looked bright.
His next film, YRF's Shuddh Desi Romance (2013) did not do so well. But Rajput bounced back with a strong supporting role in Aamir Khan's PK (2014). He then starred in his second YRF movie, the widely acclaimed, but commercially unsuccessful, Detective Byomkesh Bakshy! (2015). As it turned out, it would be his last YRF movie.
Not many would have shown the nerve to end the association with a production house like YRF after only leading two movies. But Rajput had always been sure of his decisions. It was the same decisiveness he had shown when he quit college just six months short of an engineering degree and left a TV show that was doing extremely well.
It could have been a setback. But, it was not. For, in 2016, Rajput padded up to play M.S. Dhoni. In Kai Po Che!, he had shown that he could handle a cricket bat. In the Dhoni movie, he did so much more, capturing the essence of India's 'Captain Cool' on the silver screen. It was his first Rs 100-crore movie as the lead actor.
This was followed by another experiment in Raabta (2017), a tale of reincarnated star-crossed lovers. It underperformed, commercially and critically. Could he have chosen a safer option? Definitely. But, that would not have excited him. As Rajput told THE MAN magazine in a 2018 interview: "I should not understand completely how to play my character. If I already know how to play the part, there is no point in it."
Rajput returned stronger than ever with the 2018 hit Kedarnath. He continued his strong run into 2019. Sonchiriya received critical acclaim and is arguably his best performance. Chhichhore broke the Rs 200-crore barrier, and he made his debut on OTT platforms with Drive on Netflix.
His last movie, Dil Bechara, is an adaptation of John Green's The Fault in Our Stars. It was scheduled to be released in May, but was postponed because of the COVID-19 pandemic. While that would the last time we see Rajput on the silver screen, his underappreciated work in Detective Byomkesh Bakshy! and Sonchiriya would ensure that his talents as an actor is not forgotten.
Though Rajput acted in only a dozen movies in seven years, he managed to carve out a space for himself in Bollywood. The science nerd who had ranked in the top 10 in the All Indian Engineering Entrance Examination, found his calling in the chaos of art and surrendered to it. He remains the only TV heartthrob who made it big in Bollywood after Shah Rukh Khan.