Clan, class and caste determine the power structure of great enterprises. This maxim is not exclusive to politics and business, but also applies to Bollywood—a ritzy, glitzy, hypocritical fantasy land with a dark underbelly of crime, calumny and casting couches; where old families rule the roost, irrespective of merit. The public shaming of Kangana Ranaut by the nepotistic progeny of three powerful Bollywood Brahmins proved outspoken outsiders are fair game.
In the face of critical backlash came the apologies. But with sheer arrogance, these were toxic with contempt. The Nawab of Pataudi, a fading film star known more for his romance with Bollywood daughter Kareena Kapoor than even a mediocre career, attributed the success of DNA-advantaged actors to eugenics, writing, “It’s easy to confuse nepotism with genetics. Maybe there is something in the genes too that makes many of Raj Kapoor’s descendants actors or Pataudis cricketers.” But Gavaskar’s son is a flop cricketer. Mahesh Bhatt’s daughter Alia Bhatt is a star regardless of her genes.
In spite of an expensive education, Saif seems ignorant of the fact that the pioneers of eugenics were the Nazis. Kangana responded to all film fascists with the sarcastic grace of a successful outsider. She replied, “I have spent a significant part of my life studying genetics. But, I fail to understand how you can compare genetically hybrid racehorses to artistes!” Karan Johar was smarmily contrite: “I felt that no matter what my thoughts or personal issues on this, I should not have repeatedly brought that up”— an admission that he privately stands by his contempt for Kangana.
The class divide runs deep in Bollywood. Ironically, in the Hindi film industry, cosmopolitan English qualifies B-Town celebs to be members of an exclusive club, which now runs the industry. The bespoke gown at Cannes, carefully chosen brand endorsements and the right friendships also define B-Town’s upper crust. In Fashion Week’s catwalk commerce, a designer’s status is reflected in the choice of Bollywod models.
Superstars such as Shah Rukh Khan and Priyanka Chopra, former Miss World Aishwarya Rai, Deepika Padukone, Johar, Saif, Katrina Kaif are part of B-Town’s incestuous royalty, which will never accept a star like Kangana into their inner circle. With her provincial accent and small town dress sense when she started out, even some of her co-stars see Kangana as someone to be ridiculed; not appreciated for her acting talent.
And family has its advantages. Salman Khan, Aamir Khan and Ajay Devgn have Bollywood genes. The accomplished Sonakshi Sinha has Bollywood blue blood in her veins. Star kids have easy box office recall and market ability—a reason why expectations are high; until producers and directors fearing failure avoid them.
Genetics keeps flop actors afloat. One star daughter who has never had a big hit keeps getting film roles and commercials. So do the sons of two Bollywood giants and a star-turned-politician. Optics is vital; a vast nexus of agents, producers and directors script the success of stars with scandal, gossip and catfights; publicity is oxygen. Family connections may take star kids to the top, but doesn’t ensure their stay there. However, fame comes with a price, and Kangana Ranaut the outsider is paying for it. Here’s looking at you, kid!