Bollywood nepotism: Performance matters not surname - Kaidul

Bollywood nepotism: Performance matters not surname

It was well-known within the Hindi film industry circles that Karan Johar was intent on launching Sridevi and Boney Kapoor’s daughter Janhvi Kapoor. Also doing the rounds around the same time were rumours that he planned to launch Saif Ali Khan

It was well-known within the Hindi film industry circles that Karan Johar was intent on launching Sridevi and Boney Kapoor’s daughter Janhvi Kapoor. Also doing the rounds around the same time were rumours that he planned to launch Saif Ali Khan and Amrita Singh’s daughter Sara Ali Khan. Johar is arguably one of the film industry’s most visible faces, not only as a producer-director of repute, but also through his strong social media presence. Earlier this year, in February, during an episode of his show Koffee with Karan, actor Kangana Ranaut called him a “flagbearer of nepotism” who is intolerant towards outsiders. Whispers always went on about Johar and other prominent production houses choosing to launch the children of famous actors and film-makers, but no one was more blatant at calling it out as Ranaut did.

Last week, came the confirmation that Johar was indeed launching Janhvi Kapoor to star opposite Ishaan Khattar, the half-brother of Shahid Kapoor in Dhadak, which is the Hindi remake of the hit Marathi film Sairat. As for Sara Ali Khan, while she was long rumoured to have been debuting with Johar, she will now be launched by Ekta Kapoor in Kedarnath that is to be released next year.

In 2012, Johar had launched Alia Bhatt, Varun Dhawan and Siddharth Malhotra in Student of the Year. Alia Bhatt is the daughter of Mahesh Bhatt and the niece of Mukesh Bhatt, who incidentally are the owners of a rival production house, while Varun Dhawan is the son of successful film-maker David Dhawan. While Alia Bhatt was one of the 400 girls who auditioned for the role she played in the film, Johar said in an interview to Anupama Chopra that he found something exciting in her being Mahesh Bhatt’s daughter. In the same interview to Chopra, he said that the experience Varun Dhawan had as an assistant director in My Name is Khan, helped him decide to cast Varun Dhawan.

Five years into their career and it is evidently clear that Johar’s judgment on launching these two industry kids turned out to be correct. He may openly flaunt the fact that he promotes nepotism, he himself happens to be a product of it — he was an assistant director to Aditya Chopra in Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge and then started his career as a director with Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, produced by his father Yash Johar. It is pretty much clear that neither Janhvi Kapoor nor Ishaan Khattar would have got such a big launchpad if they weren’t from film families, in this case it helped to be related to Sridevi and Shahid Kapoor.

Nepotism might be rampant in Bollywood, as it is in other industries across not just India but globally, but there is enough proof that people coming from outside the film fraternity can be successful. Janhvi Kapoor’s mother, Sridevi, is a shining example of that and so was her great rival from the 1980s and 90s, Madhuri Dixit. What better example than Shahrukh Khan to prove that you can come to Mumbai knowing no one and become the biggest star there is.

While it may be harder if you are an outsider to break into the film industry, most top producers are now giving more and more opportunities to them. Yashraj Films is possibly the best at it, having launched the careers of Ranveer Singh, Anushka Sharma and Parineeti Chopra. Vidya Balan did the first three films of her career with Vidhu Vinod Chopra. More recently, Sajid Nadiadwala launched Kriti Sanon. Most of these top producers at the same time are equally guilty of promoting members from within the industry, but it is also unfair to suggest that nepotism rules. Others like Priyanka Chopra and Deepika Padukone have also proven that one doesn’t need family members in the industry to become successful in this profession.

It’s important to note that Kangana Ranaut broke through in the very same manner as the names mentioned above. She might have hit out at Johar for promoting the kin of prominent members of the film industry, but she herself got an opportunity when Mahesh and Mukesh Bhatt launched her in Gangster in 2006. Coming from a small town and not speaking great English when she started off might have been a hindrance, but she can’t fight the data which is infront of her. Though not necessarily making the most big-budget movies, Mahesh Bhatt remains a big enough name to have one’s launchpad attached to it, and the fact remains that Gangster and Woh Lamhe, which released in the same year, was the springboard on which she could push her career forward. Therefore, it is a little odd to see Ranaut being the sole anti-nepotism crusader, because all outsiders mentioned here had to face a struggle to eventually make their mark after receiving a strong base from reputed production houses.

Yet, the one good thing about Ranaut taking on nepotism in the film industry is that after a long time, public pressure is much more on the kin of well-known personalities. For example, reactions on social media have already heaped pressure on Janhvi Kapoor, something the youngster did not need, but they will have to live with. It is well-known that coming from a film family not only makes it easier to enter the industry, but also allows a greater tolerance level vis-à-vis the non-performance of movies, compared to if one is an outsider. An example of this is Saif Ali Khan, who was unable to solidify his position in the film industry till 2000, a good seven years after he debuted. One wonders if similar leeway will continue to be given to current industry kids who will have a sword hanging around their necks from the day they enter, given the rampant presence of social media. What is amply clear though is that while Janhvi Kapoor, Ishaan Khattar and Sara Ali Khan may have entered the industry through who their parents or siblings were, their survival, unlike their predecessors from the 1990s and 2000s, will be based on their performance and not on their surname.

(The writer is a keen observer and blogger on Hindi films. His blog can be found at

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