What Varun Dhawan's movie choices reflect: Nepotism doesn't pay, it's talent that shines
The advantages of nepotism so to speak, are limited; and 2017 is testimony to that.
It has been six years since Varun Dhawan made his debut in Student of The Year, as part of a talented trio launched by Dharma Productions in a Karan Johar film. Ever since, this young actor has become a super-popular star with an appetite for quality roles. The first look of his upcoming Sui Dhaaga, his forthcoming YRF project, reiterates that Varun isn’t resting on his box office successes. Varun plays a tailor in the film and looks intent on getting mannerisms, methods and the body language of the character right. Prior to this, pictures of his understated and convincing look in a Shoojit Sircar film, October, were a pleasant departure from his filmy hero persona that has brought him two blockbusters this year — Badrinath Ki Dulhaniya and Judwaa 2. In his film choices, Varun seems to reflect acquired wisdom that the current generation of actors swears by — never to rest on a hit and to keep going for reinventions onscreen. As a upcoming star, he had chosen to stand alongside Nawazuddin Siddiqui in Sriram Raghavan’s Badlapur, a brilliant actor; and managed to hold his own.
Varun’s cinematic graph makes this clear: he isn’t quite the spoilt apple that has fallen off the nepotism tree, ripened and ready for Bollywood stardom. The advantages of nepotism so to speak, are limited; and 2017 is testimony to that.
Lets start at the beginning. Kangana Ranaut, the first star to openly raise the nepotism question, insisted on the benefits of easy access and moving in the same film circles. Which holds true till date. As newbies, Alia Bhatt and Varun Dhawan got two advantages — having successful filmmaker dads, and the advantages of money. At a pure level of basic survival, having your living costs, grooming costs covered in expensive Mumbai, gives one a huge head start. Like Harshvardhan Kapoor had spoken about prior to his debut, filmy kids can meet an A list filmmaker or producer with ease; whereas for a person from a non-film background, that itself might take a year. They can get work only with endless rounds of auditions and checking back with established casting directors. That can be difficult, and demotivating.
But one significant factor that went unnoticed in the whole Kangana Ranaut Versus Karan Johar nepotism slugfest, is that the central hook remains talent — even for those who hail from film backgrounds but want to make successful films. Beyond the glossy Dharma packaging, and the overall polished public demeanor that Varun and Alia have, both are very talented actors, with a proven track record and focus on delivering noteworthy films.
While the nepotism debate hogged attention online and on social media, Karan Johar came across as rabidly defensive. In his ‘nepospasms’ phase (he said it, we didn’t!), K Jo actually ended up missing out on his key defence. Retracing his reactions makes that clear.
Karan wrote a blog post on a news website titled ‘In Defence of My Nepotism’, where he made credible arguments on why casting star kids can be good both for cinema and business. But then he got carried away. He wrote, “We are not NGOs! We are businesses with bottom lines and budgets. And tomorrow if I want to launch Shah Rukh Khan’s son because he is Shah Rukh Khan’s son and I believe I can gain from it, why won’t I? I run a company, it’s a balance of commerce and art, and both matter." After that, Johar teamed up with Saif Ali Khan and Varun Dhawan to poke fun at Kangana and cried out ‘nepotism rocks!’ onstage at an awards show abroad. While Varun and Saif apologised and then Saif wrote an even denser piece about genetic advantage, KJo took fire on social media again. He mumbled a bit about getting carried away later, but that came too little, too late.
Instead, Johar should have let his work as the head honcho at Dharma Productions do the talking. His hack seems to be the promise of talent, rather than lineage. He launched Varun, Alia and Sidharth Malhotra, not from a film family. As directors, he has backed Shakun Batra and Shashank Khaitan, and two with film connections — Abhishek Verman and Ayan Mukerji. He will soon be launching Ishaan Khattar and Jahnavi Kapoor, filmy kids but Khattar’s validation comes from Majid Majidi, no less. In choosing talented, creative people, Karan Johar has displayed an edge, which makes Dharma Productions a standalone success amidst studio led muscle.
What Kangana Ranaut is referring to with somewhat inaccurate terminology, is coterie culture. For everyone knows everyone in Bollywood, and often everyone’s children find work assisting or working for their father’s friends.
However, those who bet their money on nepotism alone, stand to lose today as audiences summarily reject mediocre content, even if superstars peddle it. And if you take a hard look around, actors who had come to the fore pumped up on money, connections and smart publicity, can’t sustain anymore. Look back at the '90s, they never could — irrespective of their parents’ superstar or super producer status.
2017 indicates that this talent first trend might be here to stay. Rajkummar Rao graduated from FTII with top honors, and had to do his fair bit of waiting to meet up with the right filmmakers. This year, with three brilliant performances to his credit, Rao has proven that he stands ahead of everyone as an actor. Ayushmann Khurrana and Bhumi Pednekar also stood out with fine performances, as did Taapsee Pannu with her range. The 100-crore club this year features more directors from a non-film lineage than otherwise. Sui Dhaaga is produced and directed by Maneesh Sharma and Sharat Katariya, the duo that delivered the delightful Dum Laga He Haisha for Yash Raj Films, reproving that established film banners make astute, wise choices with the people they trust. And the outsider, Anand L Rai’s Color Yellow Productions has broken new ground with each film they make.
Taking a leaf from Johar’s blog, it is important to note that as the social media obsession with star kids reflects, audiences and people are ensnared by the lure of celebrity; if anything, that can facilitate nepotism in a bottoms up manner. Essentially, it’s time to stop worshipping false gods and perceptions. And the change driver, as always, will remain the consumer — in this case, the film-going public.
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