Nepotism- the practice among those with power or influence of favoring relatives or friends, especially by giving them jobs. The prevalence of nepotism in Bollywood was always something indirectly implied, and even expected. After all, it’s all in the Khandaan and the Kapoor-dom. But this ‘seen but never talked about’ aspect of Bollywood came into furious public debate when Kangana Ranaut called Karan Johar a ‘flag-bearer of Nepotism’ in his own TV show.
Initially taking it in stride, Johar later lashed out at the actress, asking her to leave the industry if she didn’t like the way it worked. But isn’t that the very crux of the problem?
Second generation star kids had similar responses. It was all about how they had worked just as hard. They may have worked hard yes, and indeed, some of them are really good actors. But the truth is, they had, and they will always have, better opportunities and a higher start than those with no connections to the industry. They will be scouted, trained, promoted and will always have a big name generating publicity for them. Can we say the same for an ordinary newbie in the field? Struggling actors have to sometimes go to countless auditions or do numerous films before they may get a speaking role, yet a Bollywood star kid may easily pocket a lead in a multi-million production.
What hurts more than this structure of the industry is that the people in it refuse to accept it. This goes not just for celebrity families, but also those who have actually made it on their own. Privilege distorts the way you perceive equality. The biggest fear young stars have is that admitting to their privilege makes it feel like their success is being undercut. To some extent, it may be true. People, even before this whole nepotism debate, tended to view star kids are succeeding due to their built-up fame. But even the most powerful debaters of nepotism in Bollywood would agree that Aalia Bhatt is an extremely talented actress. Admitting to your advantages does not mean that your success cannot be credited to you.
But are celebrity families the only one to blame? Perhaps not. Which parent would not try to help their kid in they want to follow their footsteps? In this sense, nepotism exists in every industry. Whenever a child joins a family business, they will always have certain advantages due to the connections and environment they were brought up with. In Bollywood however, nepotism in part also comes from the ultimate gainers- production houses. Films are at the end of the day, all about money. In India, sadly, churning it out via a film is easy; it depends on the content of the film, and not the story it tells.
In such a case, a star kid, who is popular on social media, has generated a buzz in paparazzi circles, have a few selfies with their famous relatives and friends would obviously be preferred over someone else, even if they are more talented. The debut of the next great Kapoor will always generate more excitement, more box office collections, and more profit.
How far can this excitement by association spread was recently exemplified by YRF, who launched their new boy Aadar Jain- by reminding the world that his grandfather was the Raj Kapoor. Yes. Even after the entire thing that went down. Why? Because they know this will work. Any publicity is good publicity, even if it comes in the form of twitter jokes.
It is not all hollow fame up in tinsel town. Path breakers and exceptional actors will always continue to make a mark in commercial and critically acclaimed films. But that is no reason why Bollywood should not change its ways.