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Why nepotism in Bollywood is an accusation gone too far

The Hindi film industry is not some secret fraternity that destroys outsiders and plays dirty games.

 |  11-minute read |   26-09-2017
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Over the past few months a lot has been said about Bollywood and, sadly, none of it has been positive. The film industry has been labelled corrupt, misogynistic, incestuous, corrosive, incompetent and operating like the mafia.

Some may argue that trashing Bollywood is not new and has been going on since the first movies hit the screens, but the recent controversy is a low point for all of us and completely unwarranted. The intent of this article is not to malign anyone or champion any one individual and it's definitely not about the dreaded "N" word - nepotism, well mostly not. This article offers a glimpse of the inner workings of the largest film industry in the world from an outsider's perspective.

I am an outsider in Bollywood. I can, at best, be described as a fringe player with some vested interest in the industry given the work that I do with EveryMedia. For the uninitiated, EveryMedia is a communications company in Mumbai that does a lot of digital work for the film industry, through marketing and dissemination of film content.

The company is founded and managed by people who are not related to the film industry. We are hired for the work we do and not for who we know or party with. EveryMedia, as a company would not exist in its current form had the industry, collectively, not taken a chance on us (as newcomers), given us the work and trusted us with some of their biggest ventures. So Yay! I can confidently say that there is definitely zero nepotism if you are a service provider in Bollywood.

It is easy to single out actors, especially star kids, and call them the product of nepotism. Now this is a bit unfair. Imagine yourself, growing up as a child, watching your dad or mom do the same thing for years. The conversations in your house are around the work they do.

You go to their office and along the way you not only pick up a few tips, but also get naturally attracted to their profession. Let's not single out the film industry kids for that which takes place all over the world and across professions. I know a lot of doctors, chartered accountants, lawyers, and businesspersons etc, who have and will continue to inspire their kids to join what almost becomes a family profession. Every parent will guide, train, invest and even hand over their practices to their kids, if required. Why single out Bollywood parents and their kids for doing the same?

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Bollywood is not some closed door fraternity that offers the best to its relatives. Statistically, Bollywood is skewed in the favour of outsiders. It's an endless list that starts from before Prithviraj Kapoor and will continue post Shah Rukh Khan. It may be tough to get in and even tougher to survive but with enough grit, determination, hard work and talent, I promise you that you can make it here as an actor even if you don't know anyone. So, my dear struggler, don't give up hope and believe every negative thing you read.

Apart from the actors, why do we not see the countless producers, directors and technicians who get a chance to shine in their chosen profession based on their respective talent? Why are the conversations always about star kids who get an easy pass, but not about the countless people who are newcomers without any connection whatsoever in the film industry?

The corporatisation of Bollywood has ensured that there is meritocracy in terms of entry, and survival is only based on performance. There is now a steady stream of professionals who choose to be a part of this industry and are rewarded as per their skill set. These people form the backbone of the industry and, trust me, they are way more powerful than the actors.

Actors are soft targets because you get to see them the most. Actors also don't have a lot of say when it comes to movies or casting. This is a fact. The financiers, producers, directors, talent management agencies, casting agencies, public relations firms and even digital agencies like ours, control a large part of their lives and the decision-making process. Actors do what they love and do their best - they act.

Contrary to popular belief, actors don't party all the time or travel to exotic places at the drop of a hat. Actors also don't go about sabotaging each other's careers or having sex in vanity vans. Now, this may have happened, but these are exceptions and not the norm. If you're an actor or going to be one someday, a large part of your day will include going from one set to the other or sitting in your vanity van, either prepping or waiting for your scene. You will be moved from one location to the other for shooting or promoting a film. You will miss birthdays, family occasions and other personal time because you can't afford to miss a photoshoot, narration or some other work commitment, just like any other profession.

On the flip side, you will be famous and make money and get to do some very interesting work. So don't give up the dream, yet. The doors of the industry are open, it's up to you to walk through.

Now, about those star kids who you think have it easy. Well, they don't. Sure, they know everyone in the film industry and their parents will help, but don't most parents do that? Bollywood is littered with the skeletons of these star kids, who on the surface seem to have it all, but still don't make it. The box office is brutal and the only thing that survives here is your talent, not your family connections.

Most of these star kids spend a lot of time training for years on being an actor, spending precious time and money only to have their fate decided on a single Friday. This goes for outsiders too.

However, if as an outsider, should you fail, don't worry. The worse that will happen to you is that you will be forgotten. A star kid's failure is paraded for an eternity and your entire family is dragged into it. You are compared to your illustrious family member and constantly reminded of how you could not do justice to family legacy.

Star kids also have limited options at second careers, sometimes the only thing they know and are passionate about is the movies. So these kids that you love to hate so much will walk around silently bearing the cross of their failures and still try to make it in the only industry they know and love to be a part of.

There is no advantage or reward that matches this risk.

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The second biggest disadvantage that star kids have over you is that they usually don't get recognised for their talent. As an outsider, once you achieve success, you are applauded and every interview will call you a "trailblazer" or "aspirational" (rightfully so) but a successful star kid is always reduced to his family connection. People tend to overlook their talent, hard work, determination and focus, reducing them to "he/she is really good. Had to be. Look at his/her mom/dad" or "Of course, he/she is successful. They had their mom/dad supporting them". This is unfair to say the least.

All the efforts of a star kid are reduced by some article or an individual with an axe to grind.

I am not going to even get into the pressures of being a star kid. From being "papped" at birth to having your entire life put on display, including your most private moments, star kids withstand stress that we cannot comprehend.

I'm honestly surprised that most are still standing and not rushing into the nearest asylum. It's not easy being famous and it's even worse when you have been all your life. And it's definitely not easy having to go through life with being constantly compared to someone else, even if that person happens to be your mom and dad.

You, my dear outsider, are lucky to have had a normal childhood, privacy and a clean slate on which you can choose to write your destiny without being judged or compared.

Do you still think nepotism in Bollywood is an advantage? Yes? Well, it's still not. Sure, it's difficult for you to get into a studio or a production house office, you might not know anyone who knows someone or has any link with the film industry. Fear not, there are tonnes of casting, talent and PR agencies around the corner. Casting decisions are now being taken on the basis of talent and not mere family connections.

I personally, know of two instances where star kids lost out on a role because the director and the casting agent insisted that the role was the perfect "fit" for the outsider. It's a tough road for the outsider, but there is definitely light at the end of it.

The democratisation of Bollywood has ensured that there is no significant advantage to the insider versus the outsider over a period of time. Take a look at the star kids around today, they enter the industry after years of workshops and training and pretty much end up competing against anyone and everyone for that one role. They may have got the break, but that does not exclude them from looking good and performing good. If anything, star kids today, look far better and act better than their parents. The parents may have had it easier in their time, but these kids for sure don't.

The successful star kids today are talented, look good and extremely sorted. The unsuccessful ones on the other hand, are not around anyway. No one is giving those second or third chances, and the only time you're going to think about them is when someone puts up a listicle, these days.

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The mafia does illegal things, damages the nation and kills people. Bollywood does not. The film industry promotes the talented, showcases our Indian culture on a global scale and immortalises people.

Bollywood is not some secret fraternity that destroys outsiders and plays dirty games. Most of us in the industry are surviving from Friday to Friday and there is very little time to play games. No single actor, producer or director controls or monopolises the film industry and even the mightiest of us are reduced to dust on a bad film.

I stated in the very beginning that this article is not about any one individual, so I don't want to name the producer/director who was accused of being the mafia. I don't know the gentleman personally, but I have worked for him and with him and we are at best "industry acquaintances".

However, I will tell you this much, it is unfair to play judge and jury on him based on one person's assumptions. Yes, he has launched star kids, but he also gives everyone a chance on the basis their talent. For starters, you can take a look at the writers and directors he has launched. So, let's just give him the benefit of doubt.

Once you scratch beneath the surface, you will realise that Bollywood is like any other industry, and it is evolving a lot faster and ceilings are being shattered for both men and women.

A lot of women in Bollywood - actors and technicians have taken advantage of this evolution and are part of the struggle to make things better. Some of these women have been extremely successful and they have done with it with utmost dignity and grace. They probably faced the same struggles and perhaps, things would have been tougher for them, in their time.

I don't remember anyone of them throwing stones at the entire industry, or any individual. These women adapted, changed and influenced the industry where there is a democratic approach based on talent and everyone has a voice. If this were not true, then certain people would have never reached this far or would have never had the opportunity to mock this industry in the media.

Bollywood is not perfect. It is flawed, scarred, pockmarked by self-inflicted wounds and meaningless battles. However, this is the only industry where thousands of people come together to make movies so that audiences around the world can laugh and cry and be swept up in an emotional journey in a darkened cinema hall.

To me this counts for a lot.

You may choose to criticise Bollywood, point fingers at it, not respect it or not applaud the efforts. That's fine, but don't compare the people or the industry as a whole to the mafia. Don't assume that everyone is sexist, corrupt and nepotistic. Most of us choose to associate with this industry even after the flaws.

We are evolving, learning and fixing problems, as we find them and in the process, we will also entertain you, along the way.

As Raj Kapoor said: "Jeena yahan, marna yahan. Iske siva jaana kahan."

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Writer

Gautam B Thakker Gautam B Thakker @gautambthakker

Writer is the chief employee at Everymedia Technologies Pvt. Ltd. He lives in Mumbai and spends his time watching movies and walking his two dogs.

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