Actor Sushant Singh Rajput’s tragic death has reignited the debate around the prevalent nepotism in the Hindi film industry. In the aftermath of the unfortunate turn of events leading to Rajput’s suicide, the three-time National Awardwinning actor and Padma Shri awardee Kangana Ranaut came out strongly against nepotism and lobbying in Bollywood. Since then some of the biggest names in the industry have been at the receiving end of scathing criticism. They are being called out for setting wrong precedents and promoting unhealthy practices in the industry. Recently, the two time Oscar-winning composer A.R. Rahman and the Oscar-winning sound designer Resul Pookutty too raised some serious questions about the functioning of Bollywood. While Rahman spoke of a “gang working against” him, Pookutty talked about his “near breakdown” after being cornered by the Hindi film industry.
Now, it’s quite apparent that what’s Bollywood lacking right now is a level-playing field. The widespread cronyism is not merely a hindrance to talented individuals who lack the wherewithal to fight it out, but it is also a major roadblock to the film industry’s natural growth and progression. And that’s precisely why we need to listen very carefully to each and every word that Ranaut has spoken on the issue. For, she is the one who brought the issue to national attention during an episode of Koffee with Karan about three years ago when she called the show host and the influential Bollywood filmmaker Karan Johar the “flag bearer of nepotism”. And since then she has been fighting a lone battle. Despite being cornered by the Bollywood biggies and a section of the media, she valiantly stood her ground. But Rajput’s tragic death has added a different dimension to the nepotism debate, creating a major stir and posing some serious questions pertaining to the age-old debate.
It took years for Rajput to establish himself as an actor in Bollywood. It really was a grind. He was a background dancer who despite being a better dancer than most stars in Bollywood had to make a living dancing as part of the troupe supporting them for a long time. He subsequently did television for years before he got his big break in Kai Po Che (2013). Then with the M.S. Dhoni biopic he finally established himself as a star, but the Bollywood biggies still continued to see him as an outsider. Sushant’s plight becomes evident from the statement given by Sushant’s father, Krishna Kumar Singh, to the Mumbai Police. The statement read, “Sushant told me two or three times in the last few months that he feels low because of the ongoing tension in the film industry.” Why would a young star like Sushant with critically and commercially successful films like Kai Po Che! (2013), PK (2014), M.S. Dhoni: The Untold Story (2016), Kedarnath (2018) and Chhichhore (2019) under his belt in a very short duration feel low? Yes, there were a few occasional misfires such as Raabta (2017). But, would star kids with an entire ecosystem working for them ever suffer similar alienation?
Suddenly, all the questions that Kangana has been raising all this while have become more relevant than ever. What makes the directors, in particular those operating under big banners, act with prejudice against the industry outsiders? Why does talent invariably take a back seat when it comes to casting new talent? And, why do celebrity kids keep on getting presented with juicy opportunities despite repeated failures when other newcomers have to struggle for years to get the elusive acting break? And yet again the same Bollywood lobby has started attacking Kangana for daring to ask all these questions.
But, Kangana is not the one to back down. In an industry where people are known to mince words, she has categorically called out the likes of Karan Johar, Mahesh Bhatt and Rajeev Masand. It’s really a testament to her inexorable resolve and her fearlessness. While one may agree that the timing is most unfortunate, it is only for the greater good of the industry. For, the widespread cronyism has stalled Bollywood’s growth as an industry and as a result the industry is losing its competitive edge.
Unless there is an equal opportunity for all, Bollywood will never be able to function at its most optimum. If the Hindi film industry wants to stay relevant in the digital age, then it must learn to value talent and merit over everything else. And that’s precisely why we need to carefully ruminate upon the questions raised by Kangana Ranaut.
Murtaza Ali Khan is a noted film critics and writer. The views expressed are personal.