First Take| Kartik Aaryan, Ranveer Singh's success stories prove nepotism can coexist with outsiders

If Kartik Aaryan can create a Dhamaka, so can others with no movie empire as inheritance.

Subhash K Jha December 04, 2021 15:37:17 IST
First Take| Kartik Aaryan, Ranveer Singh's success stories prove nepotism can coexist with outsiders

Kartik Aaryan

There is so much nonsense written about nepotism in the entertainment industry. Why is it so shocking if an actor’s offspring wants to be an actor? Why the sniggers over Ahan Shetty's elaborate fanfare-filled debut in Tadap?

If an entrepreneur’s laadla can look after Dad’s empire, why is it so wrong for Rishi Kapoor’s, Amitabh Bachchan’s or Suniel Shetty's son to want to be actors?

A more pertinent point: if nepotism is supposed to be such a strong driving force in the film industry, why are Ranveer Singh, Kartik Aaryan, and Deepika Padukone regarded as the three brightest, most sought-after star-actors of the generation, way ahead of their contemporaries?

The 'N' word makes all of us movie buffs look inward. Is Bollywood really a den of nepotism? But if we look at the   history of Hindi cinema, the star-kid syndrome is relatively recent. It started when Raj Kapoor’s son Rishi made  his debut with Bobby.  Prior to that, all the major stars, from Dilip Kumar, Dev Anand, and Raj Kapoor in the 1950s to Rajendra Kumar, Jeetendra, and Dharmendra in the 1960s to Rajesh Khanna and Amitabh Bachchan in the 1970s, were outsiders.

Thereafter star kid after star kid was launched with much fanfare. And yet there are outsiders with zero connections in the film industry, no money (Ranveer was an outsider who never had to worry about his meals),  who broke through in spite of nepotism ruling the roost.

Mithun Chakraborty, with his bronze skin and sinewy personality, was the last man we expected to become a star at a time when second-generation stars from within the Mumbai film industry had begun to take over. Mithunda came with no recommendations, and signed Mrinal Sen’s offbeat Mrigaya . His dancing skills, which he used to flaunt at weddings to earn his meals, held him in good stead in breaking into commercial  cinema. He soon became Bollywood’s first male dancing star, and the king of B-grade musicals. Music composer Bappi Lahiri and director B Subhash were Mithunda’s closest allies in the plan to become a superstar of the masses.

The era of start kids was rampant when a boy from the chawls decided to become a star. Govinda had no  connections, n  contacts, not even a place to stay in Mumbai. We do not know if he slept on the footpath  like Chakraborty did. But he certainly pushed himself into producer Pahlaj Nihalani’s range of attention with his  dancing skills. Nihalani had started shooting for Ilzaam with his best friend Shatrughan Sinha and Chakraborty when Mithunda suddenly opted out. Nihalani signed Govinda in Mithinda’s place. That is how the second dancing star of Bollywood was born.

Akshay Kumar came in at a time when star kids like Sunny Deol and Sanjay Dutt were ruling the roost. Kumar had no connections at all in the film industry. His struggle was that of an archetypal non-insider in the film industry. Kumar went from door to door trying to get producers’ attention. They laughed  at him. They told him to try his hand at some other profession. They insulted  him. But Kumar held on, until  he caught the attention of  producer-director Pramod Chakravarty, once a movie moghul, now his career  on  the downslide. He signed Kumar opposite star-daughter Karisma Kapoor in Deedar. Kumar admitted he knew nothing about acting. He learnt on the  job. Not a single major director came forward to sign him. He found stardom from the leftovers that the star sons did not want to work in.

And what about Shah Rukh Khan? The boy from Delhi who followed the girl he loved to Mumbai, and then decided he had to become an actor. The story of SRK’s stardom can make for a terrific film. From Vivek Vaswani, who gave him a home, to Hema Malini, who gave him his  first role (in Dil Aashna Hai) SRK represents the triumph of the outsider.

While the other two (or three, if you want to include Saif) Khan superstars are industry insiders, SRK became the biggest star of the post—Bachchan era without knowing a single  person in the film industry.

Now, there are Ranveer Singh and Kartik Aaryan. Though Singh comes from an affluent family, he had to go through his own struggle. When I first spoke to Singh on the day after his debut Band Baaja Baaraat released in 2010, he was respectful, attentive, and eager to learn. We spoke at length about the response to the film, and his career. And Ranveer said, “Thank God, no one says any more than my debut was financed by my father. That, to me, is my biggest victory.”

Singh was spoilt for choice. "I think after Band Baaja Baraat, I need to do a completely contrasting character. Someone who is not loud, opinionated, and unsophisticated."

The suffering of waiting was over for this debutant who came in from the outside. Brimming with enthusiasm, Singh said to me in 2010, “Not since Akshay Kumar and John Abraham has there been a male lead from outside the industry getting such positive reactions. I just hope my example encourages talent from outside. Because right now, the perception is outsiders don’t stand a chance. I had no reference like mine to give me hope when I was going through my struggle period.”

First Take Kartik Aaryan Ranveer Singhs success stories prove nepotism can coexist with outsiders

Ranveer Singh

One call from Yash Raj Films changed Singh’s life. “It was completely out of the blue from the casting director Shanu Sharma. I remember I was out on a date when Shanu Sharma kept calling. I avoided her calls for as long as I could because I had other things on my mind at that moment. Imagine if I had not taken the call from Yash Raj for a fling that lasted exactly 10 days! Anyway, the next day, I was at Yash Raj doing two scenes. I got called back in three days. Later, Adi sir (Aditya Chopra) told me he had made up his mind immediately.”

In the same 2010 interview, Singh said he was pleased he did not get a conventional romantic debut. “The story in Band Baaja Baaraat is terrific. And my character Bittu was so much fun for me to play because he’s so far removed from my own world. It was more than I could ever ask for. I was more than happy to be a simple character in a simple story. Not too many newcomers can dream of a break like Band Baaja Baaraat, certainly not someone unconnected with the film industry.”

Catty elements within the industry had spread the rumour that his father, a prosperous business man, had financed the film. Confesses the young polite actor, “Yes, that hurt on several levels. Such ugly rumours took away from my pleasure at being the first solo hero to be launched by Yash Raj. Yeah… it was upsetting. My father and my family’s pride, that I had made it on my own, got blunted when it was said that they financed my debut film. It was like taking away from my little achievement. I was upset more for my parents than myself. I was also upset for Yash Raj. Did they need my father’s money to make a film? The entire film industry knows Yash Raj doesn’t need to do all this. It’s absurd. They don’t need anyone’s money to make films. Certainly not my father’s.”

After Singh, there is Kartik Aaryan,  slowly and steadily inching his way to the top. When he came to Mumbai from his hometown Gwalior, he knew absolutely no one in the Hindi film industry. Initially, he stayed in a flat in Andheri with 12 other dreamers hoping to make it big just like him.

Says Aaryan, “To be honest, it was not easy for me to reach this stage. Today, a filmmaker and a producer trust me, and overall, the masses hold certain expectations from my film. And if that’s how you measure one being an A-lister, then I am glad I am here. As an outsider, I had to be cautious with every film I pick, and how I make every role relatable and loved by the masses. I remember even after having two hits with Punchnaama series, I had to audition even post that. People knew me as the ‘monologue wala ladka,’ and there was still a gap I had to fill to become a household name. So I gave my 100 percent to every film but it was Sonu (Sonu Ki Titu Ki Sweety, 2018) that changed the game for me. But with that success, I doubled my hard work, and made sure I put in 200 percent with every film. Today, people know me by my name, and that makes me feel good but as I said, as the journey continues, so does the hard work. I want to be number one!”

When Aaryan left Gwalior, he did not tell his family he wanted to be an actor. “My parents didn’t know I was coming to Mumbai with my secret intention of becoming an actor. They thought I was in the city just to become an engineer. So initially, I stayed in Navi Mumbai near my college but made sure I go for any and every audition in Mumbai, and travelled in local trains, changed on railway stations, travelled long hours, and balanced between these auditions and studies. When my parents came to know about me becoming an actor, they were clear that the studies have to be completed."

First Take Kartik Aaryan Ranveer Singhs success stories prove nepotism can coexist with outsiders

Kartik Aaryan

"I loved the movies since childhood, and it is this love for the movies as an audience that helps me to pick the right script. It has surely been a rollercoaster ride for me in the industry. But when I look back, there is only one word with which I can express my  journey and that is gratitude. I had come from Gwalior with no connections at all, travelled in local trains, changed at railway stations, shared a room with 12 other people, faced rejection at auditions day in and day out. But one thing that stayed with me was hope. I was determined that hard work is the ultimate virtue that pays off. Today, I have worked with some of the most talented directors and big banners. And it's not just today, but ever since I starred in my first film, there has been gratitude from the bottom of my heart. Right from the directors who pick me for their beautiful roles to the audiences who give love to these reel characters… gratitude is all what I had," adds Aaryan.

Out of the thousands of dreamers who pour into Mumbai, the city of dream, only one or at the most two, make it in Bollywood every five years. Aaryan is one of them. Today, when he is one of the 10 most saleable star-actors in Hindi cinema, he has not forgotten his days of struggle when he would wait for hours to meet a producer, only to be turned away without a meeting at the end of the day. Aaryan’s stardom, at a time when star kids are again crowding the marquee, provides hope for all the hopefuls from outside Mumbai. If Aaryan can create a Dhamaka,  so can others with no movie empire as inheritance.

Subhash K Jha is a Patna-based journalist. He has been writing about Bollywood for long enough to know the industry inside out.

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