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'Dil Bechara' and the long tradition of the posthumous release

With the trailer for Sushant Singh Rajput's final film releasing, we look at other actors who had major films come out after their death

Sushant Singh Rajput and Sanjana Sanghi in Dil Bechara
Sushant Singh Rajput and Sanjana Sanghi in Dil Bechara

It’s bittersweet that Sushant Singh Rajput’s final film won’t be a big screen release. Given the uncertainty over theatres reopening, the premiere of Dil Bechara will be on Disney+ Hotstar, on 24 July. The trailer for the film, which stars Rajput, Sanjana Sanghi and Saif Ali Khan, drops later today. This is Mukesh Chhabra’s first film as director, and is a remake of the 2012 bestseller (and 2014 Hollywood teen drama) The Fault In Our Stars, about two cancer patients who meet in a support group and fall in love.

The reaction to Dil Bechara will certainly be coloured by Rajput’s death, just three weeks ago. It will join a long list of films that released soon after the death of the actors in them. Here are some classic titles that their stars did not live to see.

James Dean in ‘Rebel Without a Cause’

Given his canonical status, it’s startling to consider that two of James Dean’s three films released after his death in a car crash, in September 1955. Rebel Without a Cause released less than a month later and became a sensation, his performance a touchstone for a generation of young movie-watchers. Giant released the following year, earning Dean his second posthumous Best Actor Oscar nod.

Carole Lombard in ‘To Be or Not To Be’

Lombard was one of the great female comics of the classic Hollywood era, acting in such screwball successes as Twentieth Century, My Man Godfrey and Nothing Sacred. Ernst Lubitsch’s To Be or Not to Be was in post-production when she died in a plane crash, in January 1942. The film came out a month later. One of Lombard’s lines, “What can happen on a plane?", was removed from the final cut.

Françoise Dorléac in ‘The Young Girls of Rochefort’

The French actor, who’d been in films by Roman Polanski and Francois Truffaut, died at 25 in a car crash before The Young Girls of Rochefort released. Jacques Demy’s sublime 1967 musical is the film she’s best-known for today; she starred alongside her younger sister, Catherine Deneuve.

Bruce Lee in ‘Enter the Dragon’

When Bruce Lee died, in July 1973, he was already the biggest star in Hong Kong cinema and had a devoted following in the West. Enter The Dragon was the film that was supposed to make him a huge star in the US as well. It did—though, tragically, a month after Lee passed. His other posthumous release, Game of Death, was contentious, released in 1978 with only 11 minutes of Lee’s footage, finished with the help of two stand-ins.

Smita Patil in ‘Mirch Masala’

There have been several Indian actors whose demise was followed by their films releasing. Madhubala’s Jwala, her only colour film, released in 1971, two years after her death. Meena Kumari lived just long enough to see the premiere of her most iconic film, Pakeezah; her death a few weeks later made it a huge hit. But perhaps the largest body of work to come out after an actor’s death was in the case of Smita Patil: a dozen films after her death in 1986, including one of her most celebrated performances, in Mirch Masala.

John Cazale in ‘The Deer Hunter’

This is the entirety of John Cazale’s feature film career: The Godfather, The Conversation, The Godfather Part II, Dog Day Afternoon, The Deer Hunter. All five films nominated for Best Picture Oscars, three winners. Cazale has one of the most astonishing filmographies in movie history. Sadly, he died of cancer at 42, in March 1978, soon after finishing shooting for The Deer Hunter, which starred his partner Meryl Streep, Christopher Walken and Robert De Niro.

Heath Ledger in ‘The Dark Knight’

Heath Ledger had been a big star for some time, but the part that brought him cult fame—the Joker in The Dark Knight—came to light after he died, in January 2008. His other posthumous release, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus was only partly shot at the time of his death. Johnny Depp, Colin Farrell and Jude Law all played “transformations" of the Ledger character to fill in the remaining parts.

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