Did nepotism take a backseat in Bollywood in 2014?

With industry outsiders getting as many opportunities, if not more than, as star kids this year, has nepotism taken a backseat? A debate ensues...

That the journey of Bollywood wannabes is not all rosy is well known. In fact, it is tumultuous, rife with struggles and setbacks. But then those with the 'right surname' often have it easy in an industry that is no stranger to nepotism — relegating talent to secondary position.

Shashank Agrawal, Sanntosh Kumar, Shivam Sood, Hansal Mehta, Mukesh Chhabra, Tiger Shroff, Sabbir Khan, Tahir Raj Bhasin, Nitin Kakkar and Ali Fazal at mid-day office for a discussion on nepotism in the film industry
From left: Shashank Agrawal, Sanntosh Kumar, Shivam Sood, Hansal Mehta, Mukesh Chhabra, Tiger Shroff, Sabbir Khan, Tahir Raj Bhasin, Nitin Kakkar and Ali Fazal at mid-day office for a discussion on nepotism in the film industry. Pics/Satyajit Desai

However, with this year largely proving fruitful for strugglers, hitlist invited a few filmmakers, fresh-faced actors, strugglers and a casting director for a discussion on fading favouritism in B-Town. Excerpts:

Q. How difficult is it for an outsider to make a foray into Bollywood?
Ali Fazal: I had done a couple of plays in school. While pursuing higher studies in Mumbai, I was signed on for a small role in '3 Idiots'! I wouldn't say it is easy for someone like Tiger Shroff, Alia Bhatt or Varun Dhawan because after a point it is all about your talent.
Tahir Raj Bhasin: The only difference between a star kid and an industry outsider is that the latter has to start with smaller roles.

Hansal Mehta (fifth from right) makes a point as the others listen in.
Hansal Mehta (fifth from right) makes a point as the others listen in.

Q. How long did it take you to get that role?
Tahir: About a year and half. However, I agree that star kids don't need to wait for their first film but after that their talent has to do all the talking. No matter what your background is, you cant force the audience to buy a ticket of your film unless they want to watch you. Besides, your first film may not be a big launchpad and you might have to be satisfied by doing smaller roles and it is the actor's choice what root he takes; I chose to skip the tube and stuck to smaller roles in films after which I got my big break. In 'Mardaani', I played the antagonist, which is not considered an ideal start but it works. Actually, you never know what works. I do not know whether Ali has a formula.
Ali: No, I don't. Many people praised Fukrey but I personally feel my role was quite boring. I was frustrated as I had to play a serious guy in a comedy film. Shah Rukh once told me that it is harder to do commercial cinema and overact.

Hansal Mehta and Tiger Shroff take a selfie
Hansal Mehta and Tiger Shroff take a selfie

Q: Doesn't a bigger banner featuring a star kid garner more publicity?
Hansal Mehta: I don't think so. For me, it would be a burden to be a successful actor's son, but there are two sides to the same coin. To make your first foray into films is very difficult. I have managed to stay afloat for the last 18 years being an outsider. There is opportunity everywhere, but the weight of expectations on my son, for example, would be high because his work will be compared to his father's body of work. Eventually, it would become a level playing field depending on the choices you make and the choices placed before you. I began with a food show because I had no other choice.

Ali Fazal (left) and Tahir Raj Bhasin
Ali Fazal (left) and Tahir Raj Bhasin 

Q: Do you think desperation leads one to make the wrong choices?
Hansal: I don't agree. To keep going is important because at times, we, especially outsiders, fall prey to a sort of victim mentality. Struggle is not confined to the industry. Tiger (Shroff) may have a slightly bigger film, but he is carrying someone's huge investment on his shoulders whereas Rajkummar Rao doesn't.
Tiger: True, it is easier for us to get the initial push and get in touch with bigger filmmakers and banners. At the same time, the set expectations build pressure on us. Your film doesn't do well if you are a star's son.

Q: Don't they keep getting opportunities even if they don't do well?
Hansal: None except Abhishek Bachchan has got so many chances. Many star kids have failed and disappeared after being launched.
Nitin Kakkar: When I saw Tiger onscreen I was blown away. He has worked so hard…

Q: Does it have anything to do with the hype that was created before his launch?
Nitin: Yes, but that would have backfired if he was not good enough.
Sabbir Khan: Hype is created only if something is exciting enough. Now that casting directors are given more importance, we are in a space where filmmakers want the right person for every role.
Tiger: I never wanted to be an actor but I do now. I used to harbour aspirations of being a national-level sportsperson but that did not work out. Academically, I wasn't qualified for anything. So I realised acting was all that I had and I am not complaining. My father and I are two different personalities and that fact is a big burden on my shoulders.
Nitin: This industry has stars and actors. There is different requirement for both.
Tahir: I hope this generation challenges that notion. I have got many offers post 'Mardaani' but not lead roles. But if the audience does not see you as a lead actor, you are perceived as not 'lead material'.
Hansal: Yes, but that does not only depend on the audience; even the makers and actors are responsible.

Q: Can Manoj Bajpai be cited as an example here?
Tahir: Maybe someone like Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Irrfan or…
Hansal: Rajkummar did 'Queen', but that was after he had done 'Shahid'.
Nitin: Rajkummar started with an ensemble film, 'Love Sex aur Dhokha' but was noticed over a period of time.
Hansal: He is still doing ensembles. It is a matter of choice. An actor must take that leap of faith, or else it gets limiting.
Nitin: Also, those of us with no backing have to make our own mark.

Q: But aren't there just a few people who get the chance to show how good they are?
Mukesh Chhabra: Everyday, 300 people come to me but only one of them is a good actor. As a casting director, I give opportunities to everyone to prove their mettle.
Sabbir: I must have auditioned almost 5000 aspiring actors for my film. They all come thinking that they are the best actor in the world. Who is going to tell them that they cannot act or don't fit the role? One girl we turned down came to my office the next day with her entire family.
Mukesh: I have faced many incidents like these in the past. I was even bribed once. Those who are not talented generally use such means to push their way forward.

Q: Isn't life easier for a commercial filmmaker than it is for someone like Nitin?
Sabbir: I don't think so.
Nitin: Nor do I. I follow a particular genre although we are in the same space doing what we believe in. There is only one thing differentiating us — that I may get an opening of few thousands…

Q: Or, you may not get a theatre to release your film…
Nitin: Again that depends on the choices I make. I might need to write a script and take it to Shah Rukh Khan. But, I choose to make films with the stories that I want to tell, even if it costs me Rs 50 crore.

Q: Why was Heropanti not made with an industry outsider?
Sabbir: We set out to make a small film. Please fault me for making an exciting poster and a trailer. Fault me for enticing viewers to watch my film.
Hansal: In fact, I have information from Sajid (Nadiadwala)'s camp that he has never spent such little money for a film.
Mukesh: Many a time, filmmakers have approached me for the casting even when they don't have that kind of a budget. If I still think that the actor is right for the part, I do the casting.
Sabbir: I think that's the right approach for any film.
Hansal: 'Bobby Jasoos' was Vidya Balan's titular role but everyone wrote good things about Ali.
Tahir: Even 'Mardaani' was Rani Mukerji's film and the filmmakers decided not to promote my character much because he was to be kept in the dark. A newcomer who is unknown to people before the film's release, will remain unknown if it fails to work at the box office.

Q: So that insecurity will always be there?
Tahir: I would rather label it as excitement.
Ali: It's fun too, as you have to prove yourself.
Sabbir: A star kid is set for a bigger fall, but when he/she genuinely makes it, no one says much. When a struggler finds success, everyone is full of praise. Why doesn't anyone go ga-ga over Ranbir Kapoor? Because he is Rishi Kapoor's son? He has been fabulous from the word go but people realised it only gradually.
Hansal: Even though his debut film, 'Sawaariya' did not do well, people knew he had potential.

Q: Tiger Shroff has also been accepted well…
Sabbir: Very apologetically. I think that the whole notion of "Oh, a star kid" should slowly wear off. You might just be in the eye of the fraternity because everyone knows you when you are growing up but no one has it easy.

Q: Don't contacts work?
Nitin: The industry's biggest star, SRK, came from television. So, I shouldn't crib about opportunities other directors are getting. I should make a great film and prove myself.
Hansal: The greatest actor Dilip Kumar was a fruit-seller's son.
Ali: Yes, but there was also a time when this whole ecosystem of image building and PR existed.
Nitin: The strength of PR gave us our Prime Minister today.
Hansal: While trying to promote 'Shahid', no one wanted to even interview me. It was only 18 months later that people began taking interest. Spending money on PR was a complete waste.
Nitin: We kept a press meet for 'Filmistaan' that no one attended. Only when UTV came on board did things fall in place. Maybe, the National Award triggered something. mid-day was the only paper that showed interest when the film was screened at MAMI.
Tahir: Whether you are a star kid or an outsider, there are two things that one needs: discipline and blind conviction.
Hansal: Usually, the ones who dream of becoming actors are inspired by stars. In fact, their aim is to become stars, not actors.
Shivam Sood: One advantage for outsiders is that no one will see us acting bad. We get the role once we have polished our craft. In case of a star kid, we can see the growth; their first film may not be great but a few films later, they do get there.
Hansal: Does anyone remember the first time they saw Nawazuddin? He was in just one scene in 'Sarfarosh' but was noticed there.
Mukesh: He used get paid a few hundred rupees.
Hansal: Manoj Bajpai had recommended him. So, I gave him a small role. He used to prepare these small skits and convince you to watch them as in those days there were no Mukesh Chhabras to audition you. He used audition himself by constantly working on his craft. He would catch hold of other actors and rehearse with them.
Tahir: After doing so many great films, he still comes everyday for the acting workshops and asks me how we should do the scene.
Hansal: Manoj had failed initially but somehow he managed to stay afloat and opened the doors of opportunity with 'Satya' (1998). It was a very star-dominated time back then. He is taking Marathi lessons for my film and devoting four hours to Marathi poetry. He could easily be complacent but he is still working on his craft.
Shivam: I guess it is about one's attitude and intention.
Mukesh: Even the star kids are working hard. They take dance and physical training classes. Varun has worked hard for 'Badlapur'. Sidharth Malhotra did something like 'Ek Villain' and is now trying to lose 20 pounds for his next film. Star kids or not, everyone is putting in a lot of effort.

Q: What are the things that a star kid can do without?
Tiger: I like the pressure of being a star kid. I guess I have to work harder, take in the criticism and turn my weakness into strengths.

Q: Tell us about the auditioning process.
Shashank Agrawal: It is never an audition with Mukesh; it is like acting in a short film.
Nitin: We did not have money to hire a casting director for my film. During auditions, I noticed most of the aspirants mimicked Sunny Deol if they had to be angry and Shah Rukh Khan for a romantic scene. People are more attracted to a film if there is a star kid rather than a newcomer.
Sabbir: I disagree. People choose to watch a film if they like a trailer.

Q: Can you deny the curiosity factor of watching a star kid on the screen?
Sabbir: Once the first look is out, it does not matter if you are a star kid or an outsider.
Hansal: My daughter knows nothing about Jackie Shroff, but knows him as Tiger Shroff's father, not the other way round!
Sabbir: Most of Heropanti's collections came from youngsters, who are not aware that Jackie Shroff was a big star in the 80's.
Nitin: I still feel that a film starring a fresher gets a better opening.
Nitin: It also depends on who is the actor's father.
Sabbir: There is a classic quote that says you have to work hard to get lucky. Mukesh: Some people maintain a vision board in which they have a picture of themselves posing with a big celebrity. Their belief is that if they keep looking at it, it will come true.
Sanntosh Kumar: I have a friend who has the picture of a Rs 10-crore cheque stuck in his room.
Hansal: If that is the aspiration, one must focus on that. Why look only at acting? It's a gamble in the industry. There are many other means of earning Rs 10 crore.

(Coordinated by Asira Tarannum; Moderated by Shubha Shetty-Saha; Compiled by Sanat Mehra)


>> Hansal Mehta
>> Sabbir Khan
>> Nitin Kakkar

>> Ali Fazal
>> Tahir Bhasin
>> Tiger Shroff

>> Shivam Sood
>> Sanntosh Kumar
>> Shashank Agrawal

Casting director
>> Mukesh Chhabra

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