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It's a heavy price to pay

Shoba (left) ... climbed up the ladder of fame to win a national award only to succumb to pressures.

THE DEATH, recently, of young Monal, sister of leading actress Simran, shook the industry and the common man. But the shock did not last long. Soon it was dismissed, not without a tinge of sadness, as yet another case of suicide. But it is cruel, the way young actresses — budding, up and coming, famous, fading out — end their lives, as if that is the only solution they can think of for their problems, whatever they might be.

Dire poverty, incurable illness, heavy financial loss, love failure, dowry harassment, incompatibility with one's spouse are generally cited as reasons for people to commit suicide. But why do stars, who have fame (fleeting or temporary) big money (in some cases) and the adulation of fans, resort to the extreme step?

Is it the greed of parents/relatives, a feeling of insecurity caused by the lack of a true friend in whom they can confide or love that does not lead to marriage? It could be any one of these. A trip down memory lane indeed underlines this fatal streak in the actresses of the south, especially, Tamil screen.

Vijayashree was the first victim of circumstances in 1974. Just to recollect — she had established herself well. She had acted opposite Gemini Ganesan in ``Chithi,'' a hit, and had played an important role in ``Babu,'' a `Sivaji 'Ganesan starrer. Her mother, who suspected foul play, wrote several letters to the police chief and the President pleading with them to unravel the mystery surrounding her daughter's death.

All that she got as reply was, ``The viscera has been sent for examination. It will give us a vital clue," a routine statement. The truth never came out.

In 1979, Lakshmisree, the charming young girl who made a mark as Rajinikanth's sister in ``Dharmayudham'' was found hanging. The man she was living with was said to have been there when it happened. After inquest, it was, however, ruled as suicide.

The most tragic in this series was the death of Shoba, in 1980, the girl who set a new trend in realistic portrayals through memorable performances in ``Nizhal Nijamakirathu'', ``Pasi,'' (which got her the `Oorvasi' award for acting), ``Enippadigal," ``Moodupani,'' ``Azhiyatha Kolangal'' and so on. The career graph of this promising star was rudely cut short. She was found hanging. Again the police closed the file as a case of suicide. The death actually inspired a Malayalam director to make a film based on this situation but it didn't achieve anything.

Jayalakshmi earned the sobriquet `Fatafut' after she used the word to end her lines in Balachandar's ``Aval Oru Thodarkadhai." She was steadily climbing the ladder with nice cameos in pictures like ``Mullum Malarum" (in which Shoba played Rajini's sister, again a brilliant performance) and ``Kali" when death caught up with her. She consumed sleeping pills. Treatment at hospital, where she lay in a state of coma for a few days, did not help. Apart from vague allegations, investigation did not uncover the facts.

`Silk' Smitha who was much sought after to give films that glamorous touch, died, again found hanging. Distributors used to insist that their films had a dance number by Silk. Among the films that made her popular were ``Moondraam Pirai'' and ``Sakalakalavallavan,'' not to mention ``Vandichakkaram" in which she made her debut. Her constant companion, a bearded man, had been with her when she is believed to have hanged herself. And a child of whom she was very fond was also there on that fateful night. Yet it was recorded as a case of suicide.

Viji's woes began with a surgery that almost left her paralysed. Things looked up after a corrective surgery was done and the talented girl, who made her debut in ``Kozhi Koovuthu,'' was on her feet. But fate, in the garb of love, intervened. Unable to wed the man (who was already married) she was in love with, she took her life, the way most of her predecessors had done.

The latest in this inauspicious list is Monal. Simran, who met the press a couple of days ago, conceded that her sister committed suicide. But she had a thing or two to say about some persons who played a role in this.

She emphasised that her aunt, who brought up Monal, had nothing to do with the unfortunate affair. Monal, she said, was in love with Prasanna, cinema dance choreographer Kala's cousin. Since Prasanna walked out on her suddenly, Monal was depressed. Simran is also sure that another actress and a former PRO had a hand in driving her sister to take the extreme step. She said she was going to turn over the evidence to the authorities for action to be taken. Whether it will bear fruit only time can tell.

When asked to comment about it, the Commissioner of Police, Mr. Vijayakumar said, ``I think each case has been thoroughly looked into and investigated. We treat each case on its merit and do our job meticulously. Of course, we take extra care as they involve high profile people. Our department takes each case to its logical conclusion. Only then do we declare that it is suicide." Dr. M. Suresh Kumar, consultant psychiatrist, emphasises that the trend is disturbing. ``Completed suicide almost always has an underlying emotional/psychological problem(s). Depression is most often associated with suicidal behaviour and a sense of hopelessness drives the person in this direction," he says.

``The stress is especially felt by individuals who reach dizzy heights of success in a short span of time," Dr. Suresh Kumar adds. And he has more to say: ``The inability to handle the new situation and the lack of skill to adapt are the reasons. In the case of vulnerable persons, stress easily gets converted into distress. The capacity to cope with stress is inadequate and there is no will to think of alternative methods of negotiating tight corners. The victims are not sure that their new found success and prosperity will last and hence a feeling of insecurity sets in. This magnifies the intensity of stress they are already battling with.

At the top one can feel alienated. ``While there are thousands of followers, none is close to give emotional comfort or support. Mistrust contributes in no little measure to complicate the situation." An important link is relationships, Dr. Suresh says. ``Relationships play a vital role in one's life. Many a time, a shallow and superficial relationship causes more pain than solace.

``Often, the victims do not make clear assessments based on proper judgments. The partner might have entered the relationship with entirely different motives. When reality hits the victim, a crisis brews. This sets off memories of an unhappy childhood that is always associated with rejection, abuse, despair and fear of abandonment," he explains.

How does one face the situation? Early psychiatric intervention to address the emotional problems can indeed prevent disasters and deaths, Dr. Suresh says. ``Suicide is certainly preventable and it is important that young people learn to cope with stress, learn alternative methods of dealing with emotional crisis and practise new techniques to solve problems," concludes Dr. Suresh Kumar.


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