The Big M
What Bollywood needs to learn before giving dynasty lessons to Rahul Gandhi
Dynasties are of two kinds, one based on the gene pool and the other on fostered affiliations.
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A few months ago Kangana Ranaut called Karan Johar the “flag bearer of nepotism”. At the time, I thought it was a bit harsh because he’s hardly the only one. But then, in a bid to somehow legitimise their position as products of nepotism, Karan Johar, Saif Ali Khan and Varun Dhawan made some very bad jokes about it and faced massive flak. This hadn’t quite died down and then along came Saif Ali Khan with his open letter about breeding, talent and of all things “eugenics”, and seemingly put the nail in the coffin of this argument.
Recently, Rahul Gandhi proclaimed that dynasties rule India in general and so he shouldn’t be the sole one to have fingers pointed at him. That one comment in a series of well-articulated thoughts took him straight back down the snake of perceptions built by the BJP trolls. Even his dimpled smile and derisive laughter couldn’t save him from the avalanche of criticism that followed, including from Rishi Kapoor, who thought he and his family members had, in fact, earned their place in Bollywood.
Of course, this ridiculous idea was shot down by almost everyone because, come on, let's face it, you have to literally just be in the line of Prithviraj and Raj Kapoor to become a Hindi film hero/heroine. Case in point – recently Aadar Jain, grandson of Raj Kapoor, was launched by Yash Raj Films with the tagline: “My grandfather is a legend, I’m just an aspiring actor”.
This should have been the ultimate mike drop moment for the dynasty/nepotism argument, but it was more like water off the backs of those who have screened everyone else out behind the haze of inherited privilege.
This set in motion a thought process about what dynasties mean to Indians and to women in India and particularly to women in filmmaking - thoughts that never crossed my mind when I was in a film school working really hard to become a director.
The lack of filmmaking pedigree meant that I was happily unaware of the advantages that come with it. This was until my first feature film released.
The promotions of the film were on. And being my first commercial feature film, I was at my earnest best. In the midst of the repeated/rote questions that were asked, there was one that stood out, a woman journalist asked: “So, how did you get the money for the film?”
I was stumped.
After some thought I figured this was a question about accounting methods and answered: "By cheque."
The journalist looked away dissatisfied and Arbaaz Khan, who was sitting near me, rolled his eyes and shook his head to indicate that I had given completely the wrong answer.
I understood then that the question was really about "via which man or industry contact did you manage to get the money for the film" because apparently training to be a filmmaker, working hard and consistently, don’t count for much. She needed to understand my antecedents, since I had neither assisted any film directors, nor was I related to anyone from the film industry and was not working under a large film banner - this meant that she would have to do the hard work of having her own individual opinion about me and my film.
Truth is, questions regarding dynasty and nepotism are not just about your family tree, they are also about “what group do you stand with” or “what group shaped you”, and therefore, "who’s hand is over your head".
So, while Rahul Gandhi is a “Gandhi”, Narendra Modi is from the RSS family. In a film industry parallel, while Aditya Chopra is the son of Yash Chopra, Anurag Kashyap assisted and wrote for Ram Gopal Varma. In all cases, it is important for the media and people at large to see you are indentified. And it becomes almost imperative to pin you if you’re a woman doing a job seen as conventionally belonging to men.
Now, one notices the repeated attempts at classification and it becomes clear that dynasties, pedigree and nepotism is about aligning - the boring idea of having a “pack” to run with - like creativity is about hunting and not discovering, creating and revealing.
And so Rahul Gandhi could have made a better argument had he said that dynasties are of two kinds: one based on the gene pool and the other on fostered affiliations.
In some cases, however, the fog of creative angst creates a wall against such concerns and plunges one into happier hells of actual filmmaking – where, frankly, one is really not giving a damn.