Why are we always ready to forgive Bollywood stars for shameful behaviour?
Indian audience is far more active in demanding accountability from Hollywood than from the Mumbai film industry.
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It has been over a year since Kangana Ranaut ignited the spark that started a raging fire: the nepotism debate. By now, the “King of Nepotism” tag has been firmly attached to the person she first accused of this: Karan Johar.
In this time, the discourse surrounding nepotism and Karan Johar’s role in it has gone from social media chatter to think-pieces to satire. Virtually every time Karan Johar announces/promotes a new film, Twitterati are given more fodder to make fun of him.
Dhadak: All the accusations of nepotism seem to have intensified Johar's resolve to launch or re-launch every star kid Bollywood produces.
Johar, however, seems to be as impregnable as the dome around Wakanda. One can come at him with as much force as possible, but he will not budge. In fact, it almost seems like all the accusations of nepotism have intensified his resolve to launch or re-launch every star kid Bollywood produces.
It was a little under two years ago when Karan Johar had the audacity to imply, in an interview, that it is the audience who doesn’t let new people walk into the industry. Then came the furore over Kangana’s comment, to which Johar’s response was that she should stop playing the “woman” or “victim” card or leave the industry.
Next came a defensive column by the director-producer, aimed at ending the nepotism debate. All it did was show that Johar’s mind was stuck in the feudal ages, and that his idea of what “talent” means is limited by the fact that he doesn’t have much of it either. Soon after was the infamous “nepotism rocks” incident at IIFA, which went so far that even someone as obnoxiously unapologetic as Johar had to apologise.
The apology, however, turned out to be hollow. For the last year, Johar has done everything possible to talk up as many star kids as possible regardless of whether they were appearing in his films. He has shown no sign of changing his feudal mindset. Tiger Shroff is going to appear in Student of the Year 2, which is effectively a strategy for the “actor” to expand beyond his single screen fanbase.
All of Sanjay Dutt's misdemenours and misadventures seem set for on-screen glory, by another star kid.
Johar is also producing Brahmastra, which stars Ranbir Kapoor and Alia Bhatt and is directed by Ayan Mukherji. It’s almost as if he’s trying to engage in as much as nepotism as possible, both in front of the camera as well as behind it.
And recently, he claimed that the only factor in casting Boney Kapoor and Sridevi’s daughter and Shahid Kapoor’s brother in Dhadak was talent, specifically stating that nepotism had nothing to do with two star kids getting lead roles with virtually zero prior acting experience.
This is only related to nepotism. Around the time of the launch of his book, Johar righteously claimed that he was really hurt when he tried to cast Kareena Kapoor as the lead in Kal Ho Naa Ho, but the actress demanded to be paid as much as Shah Rukh Khan.
Despite appearing to be a liberal who is a victim of some of this country’s regressive laws, Karan Johar falls at the centre of the Venn diagram of misogyny, casteism (which is the root of nepotism), and blue-blood elitism. His unabashedly regressive and morally repugnant statements reflect his immense privilege and prove that he has done nothing but misuse, if not abuse it.
In the post #MeToo era, India’s woke Hollywood audiences are very active in condemning the actions of celebrities who make insensitive comments, even “cancelling” them. Even when Atul Kochhar was sacked for making a bigoted, ill-informed comment, Indian liberals concluded that real consequences for such regressive comments are required.
Star kid Saif Ali Khan defended the rampant nepotism in Bollywood with his bizarre 'eugenics' theory.
Why doesn’t this apply to Bollywood celebrities?
Karan Johar is just one example. The likes of Salman Khan and Sanjay Dutt have a long history of alleged and proven crimes, misogynistic statements and actions, and they continue to thrive. Saif Ali Khan’s preposterous, elitist, ill-informed, uneducated, and delusional “eugenics” rant didn’t put a dent in his career, and has effectively been forgotten.
The fact that such people continue to not only work in, but also control the film industry proves that unlike what Bollywood keeps claiming, the audiences have virtually no say in such matters.
Bollywood’s motto— that the public eventually decides everything — is a lie told to shift the blame for its shortcomings. Either our views are ignored, or Bollywood’s propaganda has ensured that we’re so enamoured by these celebrities that we cannot seem to fault them for anything.
Karan Johar will continue to be one of the biggest producers in Bollywood no matter what he says. Salman Khan will continue to be its biggest star no matter what he does. Just like the common folk had no say in who their rulers were in pre-modern societies, Bollywood’s audience actually has no say in who controls the industry.