Nepotism debate: It's all about relative merit in Bollywood

Bhaskar Chawla

Mar 29, 2019 13:49:42 IST

This weekend, Pranutan Bahl and Zaheer Iqbal make their debuts in Salman Khan’s new production Notebook. The film, a remake of the Thai romantic drama Teacher’s Diary, has primarily generated buzz because superstar Sallu is introducing a couple of debutants with industry ties.

Pranutan is the grand-daughter of legendary yesteryears’ actress Nutan. Zaheer does not boast of a Bollywood bloodline — he does not need to. His dad is Salman Khan’s childhood buddy.

Pranutan and Zaheer’s debut film happens at a time when Saif Ali Khan’s daughter Sara is going strong after her back-to-back debut in December, when Kedarnath and Simmba opened one after the other and went onto become big hits. Both were mediocre films but the right hype, especially around the young cast, ensured profitable returns. With a smart strategy spread over two varied mainstream releases, Sara managed to showcase a wider range of talent and glamour — which is more than what most newcomers get. She is currently being touted as the next big thing among B-Town actresses.

Nepotism debate: Its all about relative merit in Bollywood

Imaging by Shatakshi


It has been two years since Kangana Ranaut sparked off the nepotism debate on Koffee With Karan, calling out show host Karan Johar for valuing lineage over talent in his capacity as a successful filmmaker. While most of India joined Kangana in criticising what can be deemed Bollywood’s version of casteism, the industry hit back with arrogant relish. Lately, B-Town doesn’t even make an effort to counter nepotism talk with flimsy arguments as it used to, but blatantly goes on with the practice.

The late Sridevi’s daughter Janhvi Kapoor and Shahid Kapoor’s half-brother Ishan Khatter in Dhadak, and Salman Khan’s brother-in-law Ayush Sharma in LoveYatri, were other blue-blood launches last year besides Sara. Although these films were forgettable, each debutant saw ample publicity boost.

This year Karan Johar, big daddy of B-Town nepotism, is gearing up to introduce Chunky Pandey’s daughter Ananya in Student Of The Year 2 and Sanjay Kapoor’s daughter Shanaya in an untitled project. Sunny Deol directs son Karan’s debut flick Pal Pal Dil Ke Paas. Sajid Nadiadwala shoulders responsibility of launching Suniel Shetty’s son Ahaan.

A Bollywood bloodline comes with advantages. Legions of fans worship stars, so chances of their kids being accepted are strong. A Sridevi fan, for instance, tends to root for Janhvi. When these kids come out to face the box-office test, merely acknowledging their privilege earns them brownie points of starstruck fans. When they lament about the pressure of comparison with their illustrious parents, it elicits sympathy.

There is an entire PR machinery planning and executing these tricks. Crores are spent on an average star kid’s launch. Post launch, if the kid fails, there are the options of relaunch and re-relaunch. There are industry kids who are yet to score a single major hit even after over half a decade, but they still bag projects thanks to familial contacts — think Arjun Kapoor.

Every time the industry wants to launch one of its own, it asks: is it fair to dismiss someone without giving them a chance? The funny thing is the question is cast aside when outsiders struggle to find a foothold. The industry demands a “fair” chance for its own kids and we, who are conditioned to believe in the outdated concept of “fairness” that works in favour of the privileged — are more than willing to give them that.

Perhaps it is time to question this antiquated idea. Star kids are virtually guaranteed an opportunity. Every male descendant of Prithviraj Kapoor has appeared on screen. Every descendant of Surinder Kapoor is working in films. Each of Salim Khan’s three sons has been an actor. Each male member of the Nasir Hussain clan has had a break. Only a small percentage of these people tasted success.

Star kids are always fast-tracked to lead roles in big productions without any prior work to show and, in most cases, without auditioning for their debut roles. This proves there is nothing “fair” about them being launched in the first place. If countless outsiders spend years slogging it out in small films, is it fair that star kids in their early twenties get to start their careers with lead roles in plum projects?

Bollywood’s definition of fairness is inherently flawed. It puts its own at the 50-metre mark of a 100-metre race. It demands fair treatment for its own kids, but only after giving them a massive leg-up over others.

Updated Date: Mar 29, 2019 14:01:23 IST