A bedlam managed to blew a fuse in the last few days over the subject of nepotism in Bollywood. The entire debate resurfaced after filmmaker Karan Johar accompanied by actors Saif Ali Khan and Varun Dhawan tried taking pot-shot at the IIFA Awards creating a pandemonium on various media platforms.
The three stars went on to publish their apologies for the indignation heaped at Kangana Ranaut, a self-proclaimed feminist. The actress invited the wrath of Karan Johar in February by calling him the “flag bearer of nepotism” on his talk show “Koffee With Karan”.
The intrepid Ranaut made no bones and called out the extremely prominent director: “Karan Johar is a star and he has given me a lot of unnecessary attitude… In my biopic, if ever it’s made, you’ll play that stereotypical Bollywood biggie, who is like you know… very snooty and completely intolerant towards outsiders, flag bearer of nepotism, the movie mafia.”
This led to a series of events within the film industry with Johar and Ranaut firing a salvo at each other. When it seemed like the issue had died down, Varun Dhawan came on the stage to receive his award and was greeted by Saif Ali Khan: “You are here because of your papa.”
Dhawan retorted: “And, you’re here because of your mummy.” Karan Johar entered the picture by adding, “I am here because of my papa,” and then the triad shouted in unison: “Nepotism Rocks!”
The lame display of snobbery did not end there. Varun told Johar, “There was a song in your film: Bole Choodiyan, Bole Kangana,” and the chagrined director snapped, “Kangana nahi hi bole toh Achcha hai. Kangana bahut bolti hi.” It was clear that the statements of three men were meant to be self-depreciating joke but it was rather at the expense of Kangana. If the feeble jokes were not enough, Karan, Varun and Saif went on to release their apologies, which was not necessary at all.
The new star in tinsel town, Varun, like any good millennial, posted his regret on micro-blogging platform, Twitter: “I express my apology and regret…I am extremely sorry if I have offended or hurt anyone with that act…”
Talking to NDTV, filmmaker Karan Johar said, “The idea of that joke was entirely mine, so I take the onus of the idea of what we said. And I think we went a bit too far with the Kangana mention.”
“No matter what I say or feel about my issues with what Kangana said on my talk show Koffee With Karan, I think I was raised to be a dignified, chivalrous, and a decent person. That’s the upbringing I was given and I feel that I failed on those accounts. I felt that no matter what my thoughts or personal issues on this, I should not have repeatedly brought that up. For that, I’m deeply regretful.” Johar confessed the joke was in poor taste but was not intended to hurt anyone. “It was something that we said in humour, it may be terrible humour, bad humour, misplaced humour, but our intention was not to hurt anyone. That very core is what failed. Then I got carried away in the moment and I regret that,” Johar added.
Dealing with the nitty-gritty of nepotism issue, Johar cleared, “I want to once and for all say and close this chapter after this and subsequently I will not speak about nepotism or Kangana because it would be distrustful for her and it would be ungraceful at my end, which I’ve already been. Nepotism is easy access, nobody can deny that, but what you do with that access is what moulds you into a professional.”
The worst of all apologies came from Saif Ali Khan. Being from the royal lineage, at no point did he make an effort to admit regret for the taunt, instead went on an incoherent blabbering spree.
“I respect Kangana tremendously for what she’s achieved, for coming up the hard way. We’re a mutual admiration society. She also agrees that despite having illustrious parents, I too have had an uneven beginning in Bombay. I understand what Kangana means by her stance on nepotism, though I have a slightly different take on it. People knew who I was because of my parents but that didn’t necessarily give me an easy ride. Look at the spate of terrible movies I’ve starred in and you know that phase lasted for a long while.”
“I am generally perceived as being a very privileged person and I probably am; the reality of it is also that growing up in Pataudi and Bhopal isn’t what people think it is. We are privileged also in terms of getting an opportunity to meet a producer, which in itself is an advantage. But beyond that, only your talent can sustain you. There are also many star kids who are actors and directors who people aren’t so interested in because they perhaps lack the talent.”
“It’s easy to confuse nepotism with genetics. Maybe there is something in genes too that makes many of Raj Kapoor’s descendants actors or Pataudis cricketers. I think it’s usually eugenics and genetics that’s coming into play.”
The point of elaborating these apologies is that on one end they indeed exhibit elitist entitlement on behalf of the three stars; on the other hand one wonders if we have read similar thing by the sons and daughters of a businessman, industrialist, doctor or builder.
Nepotism exists; it is out in the open in Bollywood, with several factions and lobbies trying to outplay each other. When the likes of Alia Bhatt, Parineeti Chopra, Arjun Kapoor, Varun Dhawan, and other star sons and daughters get launched in grand films, it’s often the mechanics of their surname at play, more than the talent. But this kind of nepotism has always existed ever since hunter gatherers came into existence. The nepotism gripping our nation has caused much more stagnation, corruption and repression.
The MBA graduate completes his education by taking out a loan to pay for his course and eventually lands up a job at a family-run business drafting marketing strategies, presentations that end up presented at company meetings by the business owner’s child.
The young doctor wants to join a reputed practice but is unable to afford his own clinic and starts working with a family practice. The husband and wife run the show and as soon as their offspring clears the medical school (by hook or crook), he becomes heir to their practice.
Then there is the young architect who has a dream – of designing buildings but does not possess the language skills required to land a job at a posh boutique. So he starts working with a family run firm where he carves the designs which are taken over by the owner’s child and barefacedly presented under his own name, thus getting offered a higher rank in the firm.
Last year there was a report published that 15 of India’s top 20 business groups are owned by families. They collective manage assets worth over Rs. 26 lakh crores. True, not everyone who has accomplished success was born in the gravy. The rags to riches story of Mr. Dhirubhai Ambani is one of the most inspiring stories of the world. But it’s also true that his two sons – Mukesh and Anil – inherited a lot.
While Ms Kangana Ranaut is undoubtedly a self-made actress who found her way into the film industry without any godfather, but so have the young graduates, doctors, engineers, architects and lawyers. But the same outrage is not articulated on their behalf as it was expressed for Kangana. In fact, there is not even certain outlet or mechanism to be vocal about this. The employees rarely get to vent their subjugation – they have to reside within their limits.
Many of these self-made artistes are talented, skilled and hardworking professionals. While they do strive for success, there is also a pinching reality that no matter how much they outclass, they will never be able to reach the zenith or join the ranks of the families they work for.
There is always a case of superficiality when an aunty tells you that “You are like my son”. It’s a lovely gesture but obviously it’s not very true. There is indeed a difference. Visible and invisible lines tend to get drawn between individuals depending on their relationship with the families. Would Big B meted out the same treatment to Hrithik Roshan as he did to Shah Rukh Khan in Karan Johar’s home production, “Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham”?
Many people are in perpetual struggle trying to establish unlikely equations which eventually destroy their expectations. This culture has been ingrained in Indian society – credence that family will not be disloyal to the sacredness of the band or wash their dirty linens outside the house. There is an implicit understanding and link of blood that contradicts any judicious thinking that reliance can be conferred upon an outsider. There is also an omnipresent faith that keeping the money within the family is the best way to defend assets and also keep the next generation in check. At the end of the day, this seems to be one of the biggest reasons of nepotism thriving in India.
Try visiting elderly patients, you’ll be astounded by the alarm they harbour about their own children. Rich and poor alike, despite leaving everything for their children, many elders fear they won’t be taken care of properly to the extent of being tossed out sometimes. The sons and daughters of these industrialists and businessmen usually choose to hire caretakers for their parents. Sure the kids sit in hospital, rope in lawyers to sign business contracts at their death bed, but rarely you would find them changing their bed or escorting them to washroom.
There is no black and white side to this debate. Nepotism often keeps families bonded together and brings out the best in their families. Think politics. Think Congress. Think SP. Think RJD. Think Business. Think Tatas. Think Birlas. Think Ambanis. In many cases, nepotism does work. Kids do know the internal working and intricacies better than the outsiders. It’s irrational to expect people to not favour their loved ones. It’s a Darwinian world.
While it’s true that ancestry makes the entry easier for kids than for those with no godfather, it’s not a guarantee of success. Star sons and daughters are better exposed to the environment for years and well groomed for the challenges than those with no contacts. But not everyone is able to sustain it. A Hrithik Roshan comes few and far between. Even Amitabh Bachchan’s son Abhishek Bachchan could not capitalise on his lineage to keep his dwindling career buoyant.
On the other hand, the “non-star-kids” like Shah Rukh Khan, Akshay Kumar, Madhuri Dixit, Sridevi, and Sushant Singh Rajput have been able to make their mark without relatives and acquaintances. Nepotism is not always bad, if subject to conditions. As long as the internal favours don’t discriminate or deprive the deserving, nepotism is a fact of life. But that’s not always the case. Financial success and greed takes primacy over efforts, team work, love and dedication. And this is where the problem arises.
We are currently led by a Prime Minister who used to work as a tea seller, a self-made man. Without a robust backing, he’s managed to assemble the best team for himself and the nation. In a hugely poor nation with over a billion people, when wealth and fame gets concentrated in fewer hands, the uproar is natural. Nepotism cripples all of us, in different ways, in different professions, at every social level. Nobody can refute that. But to raise the finger only at Bollywood is myopic.