Such poetic charm has been adorned to coincidence that while anything happening twice ought to prepare one to expect the unexpected, it’s usually not the case. In a momentous scene from the 1999 film The Matrix, Neo, the protagonist, nonchalantly mutters ‘déja vu’ when he witnesses a black cat replicate exact behavioural twitches twice down a hallway. Déja vu, or the experience of feeling sure that one has already witnessed or experienced a current situation, is amongst the first few things that come to mind after reading about actor Kartik Aaryan’s ouster from at least two A-list projects.
Aaryan’s removal from Dostana 2, a Karan Johar production, and his returning the signing amount for Freddie, produced by Shah Rukh Khan’s company, has led to speculation if big film producers are targeting him. While Neo had no idea that his words would change everything that lay ahead, l’affaire Aaryan has not revived talk about ‘outsider’ or ‘nepotism’, not yet at least. Nonetheless, some industry insiders, such as writer Apurva Asrani and filmmaker Anubhav Sinha, pointed out the ‘very obvious campaign’ against Aaryan. Much like how in The Matrix, déja vu is a glitch when the code of the Matrix is altered, the emergence of people such as Kartik Aaryan is an anomaly for which there is no standard operating procedure.
Most industries would like you to believe that unpredictability is the name of the game, but many of them, such as films, love to operate on a standard set of rules with surgeon-like precision. Aaryan’s debut Pyar Ka Punchnama was an unexpected blockbuster, and the success of its sequel and his breakthrough Sonu Ke Titu Ki Sweety had almost nothing to do with Bollywood’s powers that be. Most of his A-list projects with the likes of Imtiaz Ali ended up being the big flops.
Aaryan is a disrupter on the lines of Jack Nicholson and Rajesh Khanna in the mid-1960s, where the industry had to come up with new scripts for them as it didn’t know how to slot them. Anomalies often tend to upset the delicate structure, and they often incur the wrath of the medium as they threaten to rewrite the rules of the game. Look at some instances from various fields such as politics Donald J Trump, Narendra Modi or cricket MS Dhoni and you can see how the sudden emergence of game-changers makes the ones that call the shots to go off-kilter.
The memories of Sushant Singh Rajput reportedly being singled out are bound to find resonance with what is happening to Aaryan. Replacing an actor even after the shooting commences is not uncommon in films. The way some producers are practically boasting about firing Aaryan suggests the possibility of something more. There is always something wrong when you see a film industry attempting to ‘patch a wounded soul with a Band-Aid.’
Film historian and bestselling author