Nepotism (n.): Using your power or influence to give unfair advantage to your family, especially by giving them jobs. Example: Kangana Ranaut called out Karan Johar for being a ‘flag bearer of nepotism’ on the latter’s show.
Though the word was originally used to describe the assignment of nephews to important positions by Catholic popes and bishops, the immediate issue an average Indian relates it to is today’s Bollywood.
It all began with Kangana Ranaut calling out Karan Johar on his stance of repeatedly hiring star-kids for his movies, and to make it worse, Johar took the opportunity and yelled ‘Nepotism Rocks!’ at an awards ceremony with Arjun Kapoor, Varun Dhawan and Saif Ali Khan, other products of nepotism. Moreover, Bollywood’s obsessions with its ‘status-quo’ led Johar to also make a statement like ‘When you’re in a position of privilege, equality seems like oppression’. Irrespective of how problematic this statement is, there lays a bold, bare truth about the star kids with silver spoons.
Now let us breakdown this issue, shall we? Ever since the fifties, we see a great deal of people in the entertainment industry getting job opportunities, thanks to their relatives/friends. Right from the Kapoor Khandaan to Ishan Khatter and Jahnvi Kapoor starring in Dhadak, Bollywood has enough examples to write a thesis on this issue.
To begin with, while the Kapoors have always been the First Family of Bollywood, (thank you Prithviraj Kapoor you have lovely genes), there have also been other actors who’ve carved a niche for themselves and started from scratch. For every Rishi Kapoor there is an Amitabh Bachchan, for every Salman Khan there is a Shahrukh Khan, for every Kareena Kapoor there is a Priyanka Chopra, and for every Alia Bhatt there is an Anushka Sharma.
There have been innumerable instances where established and non-established actors have come out and spoken about their struggles, like how they audition for a movie and are selected, only to be replaced by “so-and-so’s daughter”, or else, they get typecast into doing niche, indie films as no production house would back a movie with a fresh, non-celeb face. The critics of nepotism (which basically is almost everyone not benefitting from it) have pointed out that lesser-talented actors keep getting more and more opportunities to act in big-banner productions. Examples like Tiger Shroff, Shraddha Kapoor, Athiya Shetty etc. do the rounds everytime nepotism is mentioned. More recently, Vogue India did their August cover shoot with 18 year-old Suhana Khan, Shahrukh Khan’s daughter, even though she’s just gotten out of school and has no plans of joining the industry before she graduates from college (I mean wyd Vogue yaar I liked you don’t make me do this). It is rare to find a star kid like Alia Bhatt who keeps delivering, irrespective of her privilege. So, all in all, the lesser talented keep getting more and more opportunities to portray their incompetence as actors because of their families, while the talented folks from humble backgrounds go unrecognised.
While everyone keeps calling out Karan Johar for feeding the entire industry with products of nepotism and calls him the ‘flag-bearer of nepotism’, I don’t really blame him for the things he does and the statements he makes. After all, he himself is a product of nepotism and has benefitted from it to a HUGE SCALE (hi Yash Johar looking at you how you doin’?)
As these star-kids have little or no training in the craft, they try to be the quintessential Bollywood ‘stars’ instead of just ‘actors’. This makes them conscious of their privilege and as Swara Bhasker (an outsider’) once pointed out in an interview, that star-kids often end up being ‘nicer to the outsiders than some snobbish outsiders themselves’ (hi Sonam Kapoor thx v much for being nice to our homegirl).
We, as an audience, are also to be blamed for letting our cinema choices act as breeding grounds of nepotism. Karan Johar knows how to lure people to the theatres. He knows the audience will never say no to watching a movie with “so-and-so’s son” and then spend the next two weeks critiquing every bit of the movie. This brings in the moolah for him, and makes a mark for the star-kid in the audience’s mind.
To conclude, not everything seems to be as bleak as we think it is. Not all star-kids succeed (hi Uday Chopra when’s the next Dhoom movie coming out?), and there have been many instances wherein ‘outsiders’ like Irrfan, Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Swara Bhasker and many more have shone brighter than star-kids. And apart from these, there have been enough instances to show us that some star-kids are actually in the industry because of their talent, as in the case of Alia Bhatt, Ranbir Kapoor, Farhan Akhtar and many more.