Karan Johar, Kangana Ranaut and the important question to ask: How nepotistic is Bollywood?
In a video that first circulated in March 2013, Shakti Kapoor, a well-known actor and the father of actor Shraddha Kapoor, was seen and heard asking an aspiring actress to sleep with him in exchange for a role. Watching Kapoor accost the woman yet again confirmed the existence of the casting couch; the thing that stood out was the manner in which Kapoor guaranteed that once he entered her life she would be in the circle of biggies right from the Chopras and to Johar.
Of course, Kapoor’s shenanigans might not have anything to do with the names that he dropped but in more ways than one, it says a lot about the degree of nepotism in Bollywood.
The sheer number of beta-beti-bhai-bhatija featuring in top notch Hindi films as opposed to anyone else with the same credentials or talent but without the same surname is proof enough of Bollywood’s nepotism.
The very etymology of the word ‘nepotism’ can be directly linked to the favouritism granted to relatives and had originated in 17th century Italy with the assignment of nephews to important positions by Catholic popes and bishops.
In 2015, Imran Khan was at the lowest ebb of his professional career that up until then had spanned seven years and over 10 releases that included 1 hit (Jaane Tu…Ya Jaane Na), a few average to low earners (I Hate Luv Storys, Delhi Belly, Ek Main Aur Ekk Tu) and mostly flops. Khan still managed to land the lead in Nikhil Advani’s Katti-Batti (2015) opposite the Kangana Ranaut, who had already had the two Tanu Weds Manu films and Queen.
Advani could have zeroed in on any A-list name to star opposite Ranaut but perhaps Imran’s maamu jaan, Aamir Khan, tilted the scale. The film was one of the last thrusts to Imran’s career and the actor has not had a single release in the last two years.
Jump back two decades and the then reigning box office queen, Madhuri Dixit not only featured opposite a rank newcomer, Sanjay Kapoor, but also had no trouble in playing the second fiddle to him in a film that was called Raja (1995). Dixit might not have ever considered such a thankless role had the film’s lead, Sanjay, not been the younger brother of her constant co-star, Anil Kapoor, and Boney Kapoor, the Svengali-esque producer who in many ways shaped her career by okaying her for Tezaab (1988), the film that transformed her fortunes.
And, let’s not even get into the careers of an Armaan Kohli, the son of filmmaker Rajkumar Kohli (Nagin , Jaani Dushman (1979), Raaj Tilak ) or a Kumar Gaurav, who have been launched and re-launched many times over and every single time with the then big ticket names. In fact, post-Khalnayak (1993), at the peak of her career Madhuri Dixit featured in a film called Phool (1993), which was the last ditch attempt to resurrect the flagging career of Kumar Gaurav, who was the brother-in-law of then numero-uno and also her supposed real-life love interest, Sanjay Dutt.
It is not that nepotism is not present in other industries. But the manner in which Bollywood rubs it in your face is what makes it revolting. Moreover, it not only justifies its presence with perverse alacrity but also lobbies hard to promote the cronyism. The reasons to validate nepotism range from genetic inheritance (think of an actor who has the great Raj Kapoor’s genes or is the Kamal Haasan and Sarika’s offspring) to simply growing up in an environment where they saw Daddy, Mommy, Nana, Nani, Kaka, Kaki, Taaya, Taayi, Mausa, Masusi, Bhaiya, Didi emote in front of the camera. It is not totally incorrect to say that spending the better part of one’s childhood around the spaces where parents work could bias an impressionable mind to follow in their mother’s or father’s footsteps.
But in most other professions the kids, like all other individuals need to meet a certain standard.
One can, with great resistance and difficulty, buy into the whole gene pool business but isn’t it idiotic to peddle it when it comes to cases where only a family connection is at play — Sanjay Dutt’s nephew (Nilesh Sahay), or Premnath’s granddaughter (Akanksha Malhotra), or Raj Kapoor’s daughter’s, Rima Jain, son (Armaan Jain)?
At times, Bollywood also loves to argue that considering films are such a high-risk business, therefore, it makes sense for the new faces to be aware of what goes into making them. This apparently mitigates the risk factor as family members of people already in the business have been training for it all their lives. Irrespective of how Bollywood promotes nepotism or justifies it or even considers it to be a great business asset the fact that it goes out of its way to deny it is the bigger malaise. The industry elite say that their sons, daughters, nephews and nieces, too, work as hard and are judged by the same audience but what they miss are two basic points as clear as day: For starters, many of these actors would not have managed to land the job had they not been insiders and secondly, no one would have been given as many chances had they been someone else — Imran Khan, Kumar Gaurav, Armaan Kohli, Kunal Goswami.
Being a star son or daughter like in the case of Sofia Coppola and Rishi Kapoor has its own advantages — Sofia was thrust in front of the camera by her father the iconic Francis Ford Coppola to star as Al Pacino’s daughter in The Godfather III (1990) when original choice Winona Ryder fell ill just days before principal photography was to commence; Rishi Kapoor got the launch of a lifetime in both Mera Naam Joker (1970) and then Bobby (1973) and while the former might have been the great Raj Kapoor’s vision of seeing his own self in his son to play his younger version in a film that was almost autobiographical the latter was to launch the career of his son post his child-actor days.
Sofia would not have gotten her first directorial gig, The Virgin Suicides (1999), as easily when compared to some of her contemporaries had she not possessed a famous surname but she came into her own with Lost in Translation (2003) that fetched her an Oscar for the Best Original Screenplay.
Similarly, irrespective of his famous surname, Rishi Kapoor carved his own identity and would perhaps be the only star son to liberate his own persona from the long shadow of a colossus father or mother. Also, not everyone can be like a Nicholas Cage, who incidentally is Francis Coppola’s nephew and dropped his famous surname, lest people thought he was banking on the Coppola name.
In the defense of the proverbial insider ranging from the Karan Johars to the Araman Jains, it can be said that after a point no one will remember how you got it but what did you do with it. Think Rishi Kapoor and you know what he did and not what his surname did for him. Even in Karan Johar’s own case he went from being a glorified hanger-on (paraphrasing his own sentiments echoed in his autobiography about the days leading up to his participation in the making of Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge ) who happened to be the son of one of the most respected names in the Hindi film industry, Yash Johar, to an immensely successful filmmaker — no one thought of his connections post-Kuch Kuch Hota Hai (1998).
He makes no bones about top stars urging him to become a filmmaker or readily being part of his debut film only because he was Yash Johar’s son and yet today he can’t tolerate hearing the same thing mentioned by someone else. Karan Johar’s recent rant — there is no other way to describe his tirade — is as much against Kangana Ranaut as it is a testimony of mediocrity bolstered by money and connections. His outburst is an acknowledgment that nepotism when called out by someone like Kangana Ranaut, who, to put mildly, is not controllable by Bollywood’s powers be, will be not tolerated.
It defines the lines and people who are not family and no one dare laud an outsider like Kangana Ranaut or stand-up along with a fellow filmmaker if he/she goes against the preferred narrative (Vivek Agnihotri) or even acknowledge the mere presence of insiders that are out of favours or not up to the mark (Govinda).