Suhana Khan’s Vogue cover may be nepotistic, but it doesn't stand a chance against today's successful actors

Archita Kashyap

August 12, 2018 13:49:24 IST

Suhana Khan posed for her first Vogue cover and reignited the nepotism debate. Viewed in context, this conversation is centered on cinema and showbiz unfairly, for nepotism is the overriding philosophy behind Indian business, industry and politics. In the larger sense, Suhana’s Vogue cover has sparked amusing memes, tweets and comments that definitely lighten one’s water cooler break. That she can be on the cover of Vogue makes no logical sense, and no amount of rationalisation from the publication will make that go away. If news reports are to be believed, her father's love and power swung it for her and there’s really no surprise there.

Suhana Khan on the cover of Vogue India. Image from Twitter/@iamsrk

Suhana Khan on the cover of Vogue India. Image from Twitter/@iamsrk

Yet, if one takes stock of the current scenario in Hindi films, nepotism hasn’t worked for anyone; especially for leading ladies. Yes, a certain look and body type standard continues to persist, but the successes amongst recent leading ladies validate talent over familial or filmy connections.

Alia Bhatt put an end to this debate with a wise and smart observation when she stated that there isn’t much point in defending nepotism. She also mentioned how she would have been heartbroken if she were on the ‘other side’. For a person from a filmy background, Alia’s comment puts things in perspective. She did get a high profile debut but her consistent success is built on talent, hard work and intelligent film choices. Nepotism hasn’t ensured her growth and popularity.

The second high-profile debut from Dharma Productions, Dhadak, featuring Ishaan Khatter and Janhvi Kapoor didn’t have a lasting impact. While it’s too soon to judge how good or bad both these young actors are, the overwhelming visibility and touting Janhvi as the next Sridevi actually worked against her. The burden of expectations on this debut was daunting, and a Vogue cover with a controlled interview by mentor Karan Johar did little to build her image. She came across as privileged; little beyond that. Therefore, the planned and systematic projection of a ‘cool’ and ‘charmed’ life has  so far worked against her public image.

Compare this to the quieter entrants that don’t have filmy surnames or connections to back them up. Like a struggling female actor tweeted after the Suhana cover: they’ve had to wait in long queues to audition for roles after jostling with Mumbai’s traffic just to find work.

Taapsee Pannu provides an ideal case study. A head full of voluminous curls, unlike standard straightened hair, and films with filmmakers that have stories to tell — that seems to be her method to making it in Bollywood. Pannu, like Kriti Sanon, made a debut in South Indian films and worked her way into Hindi cinema. With Mulk and Pink, she has proven her acting chops and with Judwaa 2, displayed her ability to navigate typical commercial cinema. Kriti Sanon is also a promising talent to look out for. Statuesque and measured while acting, she played a tomboy convincingly in Bareilly Ki Barfi. Her future line up of films including Ashutosh Gowarikar’s warrior drama Panipat reflects her growth in an industry where connections, godfathers have often helped carve careers for heroines.

More recently, Sanya Malhotra from Dangal has stood out as a potential star. With Badhaai Ho, a dramedy and Vishal Bhardwaj’s next, Patakha, Malhotra’s acceptance shows how her debut role of a wrestler became a superior launch for an actor than an over publicised, over-tweeted one. Bhardwaj creates a memorable part for his leading ladies and that he chose Malhotra holds out the promise of her acting abilities. The young actor pops up in the online news cycle only when references to her films come up. In the long run, this earns a leading lady both respect and love from fans.

In fact, letting work speak first has worked well for established heroines that have focused on acting above all else. Anushka Sharma provides an ideal reference. Anushka Sharma got a high profile debut with Yash Raj Films, but her success story stands out for solid performances. Sharma has never been the window dressing in films, a decision that has stood her in good stead in the long run. Now a part of big-ticket flicks on regular basis, she stands out for her acting skills.

Kangana Ranaut is another unique story — that of breaking norms and standing out on sheer talent and chutzpah. Ranaut’s on-screen presence is electric in most films. In her earlier days, her accent was distracting and choice of films, poor. But banking on brilliant performances and exuding confidence in her roles, Ranaut has carved a space of her own where she can shoulder a film single-handedly and pull in the numbers. She continues to be spontaneous in her choices which adds to her appeal. Not playing it safe and not doing the usual is what swings public interest in her favor.

Deepika Padukone’s is also a story of hard work and focus. Padukone was limited to playing eye candy in most films till she found her voice as an actor. While Cocktail was a mediocre film, it dissolved the first of her inhibitions. Ever since, Deepika has delivered solid performances and kept raising the bar. While Katrina Kaif is still an undergraduate in the school of acting, for a glamour-girl who was written off initially, she has made a strong comeback with dance and action flicks. Now, it’s her movie star appeal that lands her parts. In more ways than one, despite high profile relationships, she continues to be a consummate outsider in Hindi cinema, one who has managed to survive against the odds.

So a Vogue cover alone doesn’t indicate any advantages. Launches, social media updates and a constant focus on the ‘beautiful life of the rich and famous’ fills a voyeuristic void in people’s daily grind. It makes for decent pastime, to put it colloquially. Beyond the photoshop, airbrush and pre planned interviews though, work will have to do the talking. Besides, downplaying the star kid identity might be a bigger advantage, given that those with privilege come across as alienating to most common folk. So the legend of Shah Rukh Khan will come in handy only till her first film releases, for on that fateful Friday, the story might be different altogether.

Updated Date: Aug 12, 2018 13:49 PM