If you were on Twitter yesterday (May 4), you may have come across a trend called #YoRanveerSoPoor. This was in response to something Ranveer Singh had said in an interview:
"We didn’t have a lot of money when I was growing up. So my parents would save up and save up for that one big summer holiday abroad; I remember going to Indonesia, Singapore, Italy, but most often it was the US - we had a lot of family there. And December was always Goa with my grandparents."
The ridiculousness of the statement wasn’t lost on Twitterati, who proceed to make many jokes at the actor’s expense.
But this isn’t the first time this has happened. A year ago, Parineeti Chopra interacted with the students of Women’s Self Defence Centre in Mumbai. At the event, she spoke about the importance of self-defence, especially for women. While this was laudable, some of the details in a story she told about her childhood drew some flak.
Chopra claimed that her family faced a lot of hardships growing up, that they did not have a car, or even bus fare to go to school, because of which she cycled to school. Someone who supposedly went to the same school as Chopra claimed that her story was fabricated because her father did have a car. This person also pointed out that being able to cycle to school was a privilege in those days.
Even if one were inclined to not jump the gun and label Chopra a liar, the statement she put out to clarify her stand was garbled enough to make one doubt her claims of an impoverished childhood. In this statement, Chopra admitted that her father did have a car (which was and continues to be a marker of privilege in India) and that her brothers took the bus to school (contrary to her initial statement about not having bus fare).
Even Kareena Kapoor once said that “things were very limited” for her growing up and followed it up by saying, "we had one car and didn’t have enough money for a driver". It is not a coincidence that so many Bollywood stars, especially the beneficiaries of nepotism, feel the need to paint a picture of a childhood of hardships and poverty.
If you pick most films in the history of Bollywood, you’d see that the film’s hero is poor and the villain is rich. It’s an archetype that the industry has thrived on, taking advantage of the fact that they cater to audiences in a developing country with great inequality of wealth, where the rich have historically exploited the poor and continue to do so.
A basic principle of classical storytelling is to make one’s protagonist empathetic so that the audience can relate to her/him. Bollywood’s formula to do this was to make its heroes poor and have them rise up against the rich villain, who represented the monied class that has always exploited the poor.
It is only natural that a lot of Bollywood star kids, who almost always play the good guys on screen, feel the need to make their lives seem like a Bollywood rags-to-riches story in order to gain the empathy and sympathy of the public. This makes them tell tales of their supposedly impoverished lives full of hardship, and how they conquered the odds to get to where they are.
But obviously, since they don’t have the remotest idea of what it is like to grow up even as an ordinary, middle-class person, let alone someone who’s seen true poverty, they end up making ludicrous and laughable statements like Ranveer Singh’s.
For all Bollywood star kids, here’s a quick privilege cheat sheet: being able to vacation abroad even once is a sign of great privilege.
In India, even being able to think about taking a vacation is a sign of privilege. Having a car is a sign of privilege even today and the further back you go in the country’s history, the more privilege it reflected.
In fact, thinking that one is either “poor” or “rich” is itself reflective of how your idea of these things has been informed by films rather than any awareness of ground realities.