The Grey Area of Nepotism in Bollywood – Has It Gone Too Far?9 min readReading Time: 7 minutes
In 2017, acclaimed Bollywood actress and vocal activist Kangana Ranaut waged war with kingpin director and producer Karan Johar calling him the flag bearer of nepotism in Bollywood. Before that, the industry and all its beloved fans walked on eggshells around the subject. Everyone knew it was there, yet no one said anything.
Nepotism is essentially the act of favouritism amongst friends and family members in a certain industry. In Bollywood, there are a handful of families and connections that are responsible for the chunk of films that come out of it, like the puppet masters of the industry.
Understandably, independent filmmakers or those who aim to make less commercial films get lost in the array – sometimes the “stars” are too blindingly bright. At its core, Bollywood comprises a very interconnected web of familial relationships. As I was doing my research for this story, I stumbled upon an article that blew my mind – literally everyone is related in some way, which is a rather shocking revelation.
This topic of contention has been back in the spotlight recently because of the heartbreaking demise of actor Sushant Singh Rajput. The 34 year-old was found dead in his apartment, with his cause of death later ruled as suicide. However, many have come out with various theories that Singh was ousted by the most influential filmmakers and that is what led him to his end.
Other “outsider” actors have also come together in support of this narrative, probing the authorities to investigate his death. Netizens have since taken to the Internet to demand answers and boycott the Bollywood biggies that rest their laurels on nepotism. Everyone’s efforts paid off as India’s highest possible enforcement authorities are now on the case.
The masses believe that Singh’s death was abetted by the unapologetic nepotistic nature of the industry. Some reports have revealed that production houses cut his contract short, just so that they could work with ‘starkids’, instead. Other sources reported that he was at loggerheads with some key people like Salman Khan who is regarded as Bollywood royalty. The latter is known to use his stardom in negative ways, especially when he got away with a hit-and-run case while being under the influence.
Johar was under immense scrutiny again, with over 600,000 comments on his Instagram post that conveyed his condolences to Singh – most of which were vile and aggressive hate messages. Singh’s death has ferociously fuelled the nepotism debate with many families of Bollywood taking the heat for it, especially the Kapoors and the Bhatts.
To truly understand the effects of nepotism and its origin, this article will aim to draw a roadmap of the good, the bad and the ugly of exactly how deadly this slow poison is.
The largest and most successful family of Bollywood is the Kapoors, with almost 100 years of industry involvement amongst them. They are the only family with a Bollywood dynasty of five generations and are extremely influential; not just in the entertainment industry but also in India’s diplomatic ties.
Prithviraj Kapoor was amongst the founding pioneers of Bollywood and has been involved in the industry since the silent era of films way back in 1928. He was succeeded by “The Consolidators” generation who saw the likes of his sons, Raj Kapoor, Shammi Kapoor and Sashi Kapoor ruling Bollywood. The rest, as they say, is history.
Presently, the sixth generation of the Kapoor family, consisting of Sonam Kapoor, Arjun Kapoor, Ranbir Kapoor, Sara Ali Khan and Kareena Kapoor, rule Bollywood. Much to the dismay of many, they hold extreme influence and have arguably reached their success solely due to their family connections – an opinion held by many ardent fans of Bollywood.
While Kareena and Ranbir have met with fairly consistent box office and awards success (because they are actually talented actors who work hard at their craft), Sonam, Arjun and Sara are still struggling. Most of their films have been financial disasters and have garnered bad reviews for their performances.
One has to look no further than the Kapoors as the poster kids for nepotism. While the older generation was undoubtedly instrumental in creating the industry, it is no secret that the younger ones take that silver spoon for granted. They continue to be given projects and films alongside veteran superstars despite not having done the work to get there. It is indeed not a crime to be born into a famous family that helps springboard one into success. It is, however, one’s commitment to their craft that continues propelling them forward.
Producers or Predators?
Production is where the money is in films. This is especially so with Bollywood, which is probably why almost every actor ends up opening their own production company. However, when it comes to the powerhouses of the industry, there are two main companies that run the show – Yash Raj Films and Dharma Productions.
Dharma Productions is Johar’s home production company that has churned out legendary hits like Kuch Kuch Hota Hai and Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham, that he also directed. The company was set up in 1979 by his father, Yash Johar, who had already established it as a leading production house. Johar took over in 2004, and while he has created some blockbuster movies since then, the fact remains that he was handed the opportunities on a gold platter.
Like Dharma Productions, Yash Raj FIlms was also founded in the 70s and have been established as a production mogul since then. Established by Yash Chopra, who is Johar’s maternal uncle, the company is currently run by Aditya Chopra, who happens to be married to Rani Mukherji – the leading lady of the 2000s. I know, I find it confusing too.
So what happens when the trade is monopolised by the flag bearers of nepotism? Inevitably, the chances go to those who are connected to them. It is almost impossible for a newcomer to penetrate the scene. Even if they do bulldoze their way in, their films are not given the budget or grandeur to do commercially well. What is born from this is a vicious cycle that has claimed the lives of some and the careers of many.
On 14 June 2020, the news of Sushant Singh Rajput’s death shocked the entire world. Within minutes of his death, word of Singh being severely depressed, bipolar and problematic started making the rounds. However, fans were not fooled. Conspiracies began that his death was orchestrated by the “Bollywood Mafias”.
Referring to Yash Raj Films, Dharma Productions and Bhansali Productions, fans were spewing accusations about their unjust treatment and termination of his contract while demanding justice for their beloved star. After unprecedented demonstrations both online and in his hometown of Bihar, the Indian government has ordered the Central Bureau of Investigations to thoroughly investigate this case, which is ongoing now.
While there have been no concrete answers yet, people have made their presence and displeasure known to the starkids by annihilating their comment sections on Instagram. Actors such as Alia Bhatt, Sonam Kapoor, Arjun Kapoor and Sonakshi Sinha are facing the wrath of fans with most of them having their comment section restricted even a few months on.
Singh’s supporters are far and wide, evidenced by how they shattered records on Alia Bhatt’s new film Sadak 2 – and not in a good way. Their vigorous online campaigns have now left the film’s trailer as the second most unliked video on Youtube with a whopping 12 million dislikes. It surpassed Justin Bieber’s infamous hit Baby which has 11 million dislikes and is currently the most unliked film trailer on Youtube.
Not only did Singh’s career come to a tragic end, it seems like fans are furious enough to end many careers along with him. In a time where cancel culture is so aggressive, the solution is not to “end” anyone. It is, in fact, to give those who deserve it a chance instead of constantly coddling the products of nepotism, without a reason to.
An accusation like “Bollywood Mafia” is not one to be taken lightly. In a country like India where money speaks the loudest, more has to be done for those who are marginalised. Singh’s death will hopefully be the guiding beacon of change where the industry is not monopolised and those who insist on doing so, face severe consequences. One life lost to nepotism is already one too many.
Ultimately, whether anyone likes it or not, nepotism is here to stay, and not just in the film industry. Every single industry has people who have gotten to the top by unjust means. However unfair that may be, it is up to us as consumers, to ensure the right people get credit and recognition.
While we all enjoy the occasional mindless Bollywood flick with painfully average acting and gaudy props, we must push ourselves to view pieces of work that are outside our comfort zone, just to give all artistes a fair shot. After all, it is the audience’s applause that fuels them.
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