The Nepotism Debate: Nothing succeeds like success

Even as the nepotism debate rages in Bollywood, observers point out that you cannot sell something that doesn’t sell itself

Sushant Singh Rajput
Sushant Singh Rajput

Subhash K Jha

The sudden and shocking death of Bollywood star Sushant Singh Rajput on June 14 has triggered off a raging debate on the wages of nepotism in the Indian entertainment industry. Rajput, 34, who was found hanging in his bedroom, has become the face of the struggling outsider in Bollywood, while producer-directors Karan Johar and Mahesh Bhatt are being seen as the ugly faces of nepotism and favouritism in Bollywood.

However, actress Swara Bhaskar, herself an outsider in Bollywood and a successful one at that, wonders how Rajput, who was part of many blockbusters like Dhoni The Untold Story and Chhichhore during his lifetime, could be seen as a struggler in Bollywood.

“He was a very successful star with no dearth of offers from the biggest filmmakers. Those multitudes indulging in Twitter conspiracy theories on Sushant’s death are fuelling a non-existent fire,” says Bhaskar, a fierce activist on social media who has acted in women-oriented films such as Nil Batte Sannatta and Anarkali Of Arrah.

The vicious and unrelenting online campaign to “boycott” two big forthcoming feature films on the digital platform, has producers worried. Both Janhvi Kapoor and Alia Bhatt, the main attractions of Gunjan Saxena The Kargil Girl and Sadak 2, respectively, have more projects riding on their shoulders.

The one-film old Janhvi Kapoor has the horror-comedy Roohi Afza with Rajkumar Rao and another comedy Karan Johar’s Dostana2 coming up after her star turn as Gunjan Saxena in Netflix’s biopic. All these films are likely to be affected if the ongoing debate on outsiders-versus-insiders that has taken over Bollywood, persists.

Alia Bhatt, who stars in father Mahesh Bhatt’s Sadak 2 also faces a massive boycott campaign. Besides this film, Alia also has three of the biggest most expensive projects of Hindi cinema—Ayan Mukerjee’s science fiction Brhamhastra, Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s gangster biopic Gangubai Kathiawadi and S S Rajamouli (Baahubali)’s RRR.

The film trade fears that if Janhvi Kapoor and Alia Bhatt’s current releases get affected by the anti-nepotism campaign sweeping across India, their future projects too will suffer.

Baffled, bewildered and frankly petrified young Janhvi Kapoor, daughter of the legendary Sridevi says, “It all comes down to the effort and the hard work you put into your work. If one keeps working hard, then one will get where one has to get. I am aware of my privilege. I often felt guilty about it. But the best I can do is to earn my place by working even harder.”

Writer-editor-director Apurva Asrani completely supports Janhvi Kapoor’s right to be seen on screen on her own merit and not being a star daughter. “People have every right to not watch a movie, or to critique an actor’s performance. But the nasty name calling, the call to ban and boycott, the dissing of Janhnvi’s performance even before they have seen the film, this is not fair.”

Apurva sees the same bullying tactics being applied to Janhvi and Sushant Singh Rajput. “I was among the few from the industry that spoke up against how Sushant was bullied in the press leading to his death, and it is sad to see Jahnvi now being bullied like that. Insider & outsider are only terms at the end of the day. What they are doing with their misplaced anger is breaking a human spirit. I urge them to practice compassion.”

Alia Bhatt told this writer she would rather remain quiet. Her sister actress and producer of Sadak 2 Pooja Bhatt commented to Arab News, “There are the doers and there are the naysayers…the lovers and the haters…one has to decide what category one inherently belongs to and which one would rather focus on and cater to. I don’t take it personally when a mosquito bites me for its survival. I have the same opinion about engineered criticism.”

Poet, film historian, film producer and legendary entertainment journalist Pritish Nandy feels nepotism is prevalent in the entertainment industry all across the world. But perhaps it is more pronounced in Bollywood than elsewhere

Says Mr Nandy, “Nepotism is rampant in Bollywood and there are people who want to continue this tradition. Of course it is also in politics and other professions as well, and all over the world. The Kennedys and the Rothschilds will always get an unfair advantage over common people with merit. Yes, it happens in Hollywood too. But does that make it correct? I don’t think so.”

Interestingly Mr Nandy feels nepotism is not the birthright of movie industry’s children alone. “Those who do not come up through nepotism, also practise nepotism because it is fashionable to do so. The media is complicit in this. They chase the star kids, the industry kids from a very young age and give them so much attention and publicity that they get an unfair advantage when they grow up.”

At the same time Mr Nandy admits that nepotism does not preclude success and stardom for those not born in the entertainment industry. “It is also true that there are outsiders who make it. But life is tougher for them. They are bullied and ragged during live stage shows. They are harassed and intimidated by those who control the industry and pull its levers of power, those who steal the awards and manipulate the success and failures. That is the tragic part. That is what I resent. That is why so many suicides happen in the entertainment indusry.”

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