Anushka Sharma, Swara Bhaskar back Karan Johar in nepotism debate

The actresses joined the list of leading names speaking up on the issue of nepotism in Hindi cinema.

Swara Bhaskar and Anushka Sharma

Shriram Iyengar

The growing debate on nepotism in Hindi cinema has two new voices. Anushka Sharma and Swara Bhaskara, both outsiders who have made a mark in the industry, are the latest to express their opinions on the raging debate in industry circles. Ever since Kangana Ranaut walked into Karan Johar's show, Koffee With Karan, and called the director a 'flagbearer of nepotism', the debate on the industry's filial fidelity has only increased. 

Speaking to the Press Trust of India, Sharma, who made her debut with Yash Raj Films' Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi (2008) said, "The production house which launched me, I can't talk like that about them because they gave an outsider like me a chance."

She said she had not faced nepotism through her career so far. Sharma said YRF could have cast a known face but gave her, an outsider, a chance.

"They did have an option to take any industry kid at that time, but Aditya Chopra put faith in me," she said. "I can talk about my experience and I've never faced nepotism in any way. Whether this happens or not, everybody has their own experiences. Maybe it happens, but I can never say this about Aditya. He has launched all outsiders. Me, Ranveer Singh, Parineeti Chopra. Except for Arjun Kapoor, all Yash Raj talent are outsiders."

Swara Bhaskar, another outsider to the industry, did not deny that "feudalism" exists in Hindi cinema, but she denied the charge against Johar. The actress, whose Anaarkali Of Aarah is set to be released on 24 March, said, "Bollywood as an industry is based on relationships. It has always been star-driven and it has an element of feudalism. So, it would be difficult for an outsider, but my experience of Bollywood is not nepotistic at all."

Like Sharma, Swara Bhaskar praised Johar for helping to promote her film, Nil Battey Sannata (2016). "I think people who have been most warm and nice are people like Karan Johar, Sonam Kapoor and even Aditya Chopra," she said. "He [Johar] has always been very responsive and helpful. Since the whole nepotism debate is going on, I just want to say that Karan has been a revelation to me. He is an industry elite but has been a wonderful surprise. He launched our film's poster despite me not knowing him personally." 

The actresses are the latest names to join the debate. It all began when season 5 of Koffee With Karan saw Kangana Ranaut tell the director, "In my biopic, you will play the stereotypical Bollywood biggie, who is snooty and completely intolerant to outsiders. A flag-bearer of nepotism. The movie mafia."

Replying to Ranaut's barbs, Johar suggested she should "stop being a victim or leave the industry". This resulted in an extended war of words between the two, as Ranaut returned fire with a detailed 'open letter'.

Read more: Karan Johar on Kangana’s accusations: Stop being a victim or leave the industry

In a recent interview, Alia Bhatt accepted that the industry could be a little partial to insiders. She said, "I think a star kid can get that first film due to nepotism. But to constantly get films just because you belong to a filmi family is not possible... I don’t want to take any names, but there have been many examples of sons and daughters of lineage who have come and gone without achieving anything. What about that? Eventually, people come to see you as an actor and not because your family is famous, and you can’t fool them." 

Read more: A star kid can get that first film due to nepotism: Alia Bhatt

Another star kid, Sonam Kapoor, said, "I wish! I have done only one film with him [Karan Johar]."

Aamir Khan, at his recent birthday event, called it "common human nature". Speaking to the media, the superstar said, "It's normal human nature to try and help people you love and care for. It doesn't have to be someone from your family. So it's a very natural emotion. In my work, I strive to not allow that feeling to interfere. I feel that it's my responsibility as a creative person towards the audience and give them the most importance. I try to not bring in any emotions of that sort in my work."

Although there are no accusatory fingers being pointed, a number of artistes have accepted that 'nepotism' exists in the industry. As Randeep Hooda said in a recent interview, "There is nepotism and there isn’t. If you have the talent, no one can keep you down, but you have to prove yourself. Kangana has it [talent] and she has done well for herself."

Rajkummar Rao, another outsider to the industry, felt there was 'no problem' as such. He said, "I love watching talented actors on screen, I don’t mind if they are somebody’s son or daughter in the industry. I want to see talent on screen. The problem would be if they are not talented and they are still on screen, then that’s not fair. So if someone is worthy and talented, then why not, I have no problem with that!”

It seems that the issue has divided the industry right down the middle.