Article Hindi

Reams of press coverage of star kids propagates nepotism: Opinion

With so many star sons and daughters in the limelight before they have so much as shot for a single scene, do people still believe nepotism isn’t a reality in the Hindi film industry?

Jhanvi Kapoor, Ishaan Khattar, Sara Ali Khan. Photos: Shutterbugs Images

Suparna Thombare

Some days ago, at lunch, I happened to pick up bits of the conversation at the next table. Since I eat, drink and sleep movies, my interest was piqued when I overheard Saif Ali Khan's name.

"Saif Ali Khan's daughter Sara is friends with Sridevi's daughter, na..." said the first. "Jhanvi... that's her daughter's name, right?" said the other. "Yeah... those two are going to be big rivals when they enter films," continued the first. The second replied, "But right now they are friends... I saw their picture together on some website."

How many times in the past year have you read about the impending film debuts of Sara Ali Khan, Jhanvi Kapoor, Shah Rukh Khan’s son Aryan and daughter Suhana, Chunky Pandey’s daughter Ananya, Sunny Deol’s son Karan, Suniel Shetty’s son Ahaan, and Shahid Kapur’s brother Ishaan Khattar, among many others? I have lost count. And I am not including the star babies (read: AbRam Khan, Taimur Ali Khan and Misha Kapoor) who are also in the news every second day.

Kangana Ranaut, who famously sparked the nepotism debate on Karan Johar’s show, recently said in an interview with Anupam Kher: “It is possible that the kids (with all due respect to them) who have prepared for their audition from a very young age... fighting classes, diction classes, skin classes... obviously it will make an impact when they go for their first audition. I have seen several times that the kids who come from filmi families, instead of understanding their privilege and the guidance they get, say we have the pressure of expectations and we already have an audience to impress. But it takes [for outsiders] 10 years to earn an audience. But you [the star kids] start from there, you already have an audience, what more do you want?”

While some 'outsiders' like Kartik Aaryan do sympathise with the star kids about the pressure to fill big shoes, Ranaut is right when she talks about them coming in with a readymade audience.

Media reports about star kids are not limited to speculation about their debut. Acres of newsprint and online space are dedicated to these 'hot' youngsters, their holiday and bikini pictures, red-carpet looks, style quotient, gossip about friends and love life — in short, how they are the next big thing in cinema and what their famous parents are saying about their upcoming movie career, a trend that presages the socialite-celebrity culture that is prevalent in Hollywood.

For instance, the headline of a popular gossip website in 2012 read 'Jhanvi Kapoor: Style icon in the making?' (Thank you for the question mark). Jhanvi was 15 then. Many such headlines glorifying her style quotient have appeared since, including 'Jhanvi Kapoor’s style file: Steal a glance at our 20 favourite fashionable looks'.  An article in the women's magazine Femina recently spoke of 'Sara Ali Khan and Jhanvi Kapoor, our new fashion faves' and discussed everything — from how they choose the right brands to their perfect gym look. Jhanvi was even on the cover of Hello! gossip magazine in 2013, featured alongside mother Sridevi, father Boney Kapoor and sister Khushi, and attended a press conference where she answered questions from the media.

Ananya Pandey is also being hailed as the hottest of the lot. Stories like '7 pics of Chunky Pandey’s hot daughter Ananya that prove she could be the next big thing in Bollywood!' have become common over the past six months.

As I was writing this, I received an e-mail from Yash Raj Films: 'Meet Aadar Jain, YRF's new boy!' Aadar Jain is Raj Kapoor's grandson, Reema Jain's son and Ranbir Kapoor's cousin. The e-mail even had his picture superimposed on Raj Kapoor's!

There is no dearth of gossip either. Like the report of Sara Ali Khan, Jhanvi Kapoor and Ishaan Khattar bonding at Karan Johar's party. Sara has been in the news for dating and then breaking up with Anil Kapoor's son Harshvardhan. The rumours began ever since paparazzi spotted them going out to dinner.

Last year, Aryan Khan was in the news for vacationing in Phuket with Amitabh Bachchan's granddaughter Navya Naveli (though they were accompanied by friends). Headlines like 'SRK's son Aryan spotted partying with mystery girl' are fairly common.

A few months ago, Shah Rukh Khan's daughter Suhana made news for a leaked video of her theatrical performance of a comic take on Cinderella. Some of her pictures with friends have also gone viral over the years.

If you haven't caught on yet, many of these youngsters are already social media sensations, with dedicated fan clubs and large numbers of followers on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Jhanvi has a fan club with over 160,000 followers on Instagram. Aryan Khan has a verified Instagram account with 423,000 followers. His pictures on the photo-sharing application have been regular fodder for gossip.

While Shah Rukh Khan recently told reporters that there is a lot of time before his kids join the movies, that does not stop the paparazzi and gossip news. Khan even sent out an unofficial request to media organisations some time ago to stop using Suhana's pictures. In 2015, Saif Ali Khan asked son Ibrahim to stay off social media after his pictures started going viral.

With so many star sons and daughters in the limelight before they have so much as shot for a single scene, do people still believe nepotism isn’t a reality in the Hindi film industry? And isn't it time for the media to admit that their gratuitous coverage of these star kids, who are yet to prove their talent at anything more than expensive tastes and pouting for pictures, contributes to boosting nepotism in the film industry? As Ranaut said, they have built ready audiences, thanks to social and traditional media, and have no dearth of opportunities, thanks to their connections.

For comparison, see the plight of some of the 'outsiders' who have recently entered Hindi cinema. Like Disha Patani, who made her debut with MS Dhoni: The Untold Story (2016). After being a runner-up at the Femina Miss India 2013 contest, Patani first appeared in a Telugu film in 2015 before auditioning for and bagging the role in the Dhoni biopic, in which she dies in the first half. And despite her promising start, she is still waiting to start her second film, Baaghi 2, opposite Tiger Shroff, which will be released only in 2018.

Or Kriti Sanon, who entered the industry with Baaghi (2014), opposite Shroff, who was also making his debut. The film was tailored to be Jackie Shroff’s son’s launch. And despite getting better reviews than Tiger, Sanon, daughter of a chartered accountant father and professor mother, has a struggle ahead. While Shroff has had projects curated around him since his debut and five films in the offing (Munna Michael, Baaghi 2, Student Of The Year 2, Rambo, Adhoora), Sanon has just one coming up — Bareilly Ki Barfi — after last month's dud Raabta.

Outsiders get minimal media coverage, if at all, before their debuts. In fact, even today, some of the star kids who have not yet entered the industry feature more in the media than Sanon or Patani. These actresses had to do several commercials, take part in beauty contests, act in films in the South and give many, many auditions before landing their first roles in Hindi cinema.

On the other hand, Karan Johar has already announced that he will launch Aryan Khan whenever he decides to start acting. Suneel Darshan launched son Shiv some years ago and relaunched him this year with Ek Haseena Thi Ek Deewana Tha. Similarly, Mustan (of Abbas-Mustan fame) launched son Mustafa recently in the dud, Machine. And don't be surprised if he gets relaunched, too.

Anil Kapoor's son Harshvardhan met filmmaker Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra on the sets of sister Sonam Kapoor's Delhi-6 and landed the lead role in Mirzya (2016). Can a non-filmi newcomer even dream of hanging around on a set like that? Harshvardhan's co-star was first-timer Saiyami Kher (Usha Kiran's granddaughter and Tanvi Azmi's niece). The film was mounted on a lavish scale, but failed at the box office. Harshvardhan, however, had begun shooting for his second film, Vikramaditya Motwane's Bhavesh Joshi, even before his debut film was released.

Aditya Pancholi's son Sooraj (who was prepared with dance and stunt training and a six pack) and Suniel Shetty's daughter Athiya were launched by Salman Khan with aplomb in 2015. Two years later, both have signed their second films despite the reviews about their acting prowess.

Things were different even for earlier star sons and daughters. While there was curiosity among audiences, the hype and PR machinery wasn’t working overtime. Hrithik Roshan was launched by father Rakesh Roshan, but there were no expectations from him or from Kaho Naa... Pyaar Hai (2000), though the film became a hit and turned him into a star overnight. Ranbir Kapoor, Sonam Kapoor, Abhishek Bachchan and Kareena Kapoor (none of whom made a successful debut) had audiences waiting to check them out on the big screen, but they did not have tons of media outlets gushing about them being the next star before they so much as signed a film.