Who are actually B'wood's bosses?
What is being called nepotism in the Hindi film industry by some is just networking everywhere else. Yup I hate it too.
While rehearsing for the play Mahatma vs Gandhi, actor Naseeruddin Shah once told me, he came across a scene where Gandhiji overlooks his son Harilal to recommend for a scholarship in England because he felt there was someone more deserving.
Naseer was using this as an example to explain the greatness of Gandhi to his own sons (who were also in the play). "Baba, what would you do in Gandhiji's place," his six-year-old (then) Vivaan asked. Naseer wondered, "I really don't know beta. Maybe I would send you, I am not Gandhiji."
Meaning, not a Mahatma — or above human, which is what Gandhiji was unequivocally deemed. He could go against what nature chiefly equips parents to do — protect and further the interests of their young, first. In doing so, for instance, every business plus property is handed over from parents to their children. No one complains. It's called inheritance. You could have a problem with it. Nobody does.
This can also grow backwards and sideways where traditionally, in desi film industry for instance, the lead female actors' flourishing careers have, for some reason, mainly been managed by the mother, sibling, etc. This employment scheme isn't something nefarious. It's considered natural. Trust in the family first.
Does this ring expand to friends from family, school/college alumni, like-minded peers, or relationships developed through mutual respect among people from completely different professions — say Mukesh Ambani, Aamir Khan and Sachin Tendulkar? It's called a social circle.
Can such connections deepen inequality of opportunities in a world that's so unequal to start with? Should one fight this, if one can, if things go too far? Hell, yeah. Where does it exist most though? In the least public of professions, where you can ask someone to "put in a word" ('pairvi' in Hindi) for a seat — on a train, college, or top contract — for nobody else will find out. This is influence.
Where does it exist much less? In jobs that are more public — ironically electoral politics and mass culture (pop-music, films, etc), where voters more directly decide your worth. And so a person's influence keeps rising or falling, depending on results. And multiple groups keep forming and disbanding around as a result. Call it the ever-changing groupism, if you will. This is not mafia — any more than favouritism between your boss and his cronies.
Hindi cinema probably had its worst such phase in the late '70s/'80s, with "parallel" and "mainstream" cinema, where Yash Chopras, Subhash Ghais existed in a totally separate universe from Shyam Benegal, Saeed Akhtar Mirza and other "art-house" types. Never the two would meet, creating a class system in cinema of sorts.
So not the case anymore. What didn't change though? Star system. Who have ruled over Hindi cinema over generations, therefore? Few stars, generating a nexus of access, chelas/chamchas; and their presence perpetuating obsessions with rankings, ladders, and box-office numbers like score-cards in a sport called Bollywood.
It's art for heaven's sake. Became worse after the '90s, with the post-liberalisation mainstream news-media, where nothing succeeded like excess — of riches and fame, A-list, B-grade categories, in every sphere, from start-ups to cinema — fuelling insecurities, shaming failures; building myths upon myths, like the glittering, rigged award shows, held for sponsorships and TV ratings, for one.
God knows have attempted greater representation for aspects other than stardom in the entertainment coverage of platforms where I've worked as an editorial hand. It's been resoundingly rejected.
Not by management or advertiser. That comes much later. By the public foremost, through surveys/focus-groups, where they've decidedly chosen one cover, over the other. So let no one take moral high-ground here. We belong to the same eco-system, and echo chamber — didn't create it; participated in it. And yet, everything around those known circles sounds totally outdated to me.
No, I'm not referring here to Arnab Goswami — the adorable, TV actor-anchor, faking anger, getting abusive on his show, while he discusses bullying in Bollywood! Going after bad jokes, silly party games, conspiracy theories, KJo, SRK, etc. In line with his love for drama, let me break the news, in case you haven't noticed since corona/lockdown: As we speak, there is no Bollywood left only!
As it is, the world has been inundated with creators who need the mercy of no one to distribute their content (getting on YouTube/Insta, with millions of followers of their own). But even in the mainstream, arguably the biggest Bollywood star of the past decade's been? Salman Khan.
Amazon Prime Video has been practically paying his salary since 2017, over a deal that stipulates all his future films get on the platform (he can make whatever profits from theatrical releases he likes).
Which company has the longest line-up of originally financed/produced movies out of Bollywood? Netflix. Where are the rest of Bollywood releases going? Hotstar-Disney. What's there for multiplexes to play, even if they reopen, whenever they do? Nothing.
Who are Dharma, Yashraj, SRK, etc? Currently, content producers. Jeff Bezos, Ted Sarandos, Rupert Murdoch, and Ambani (Jio Cinemas)? Bollywood's bosses. What happens in an environment such as this? Surely merit must trump all. But is that all? Nope. What's termed 'nepotism' in Bollywood is just networking in more sanitised environments. Sure, must continue to hate both. Just remember that today's insiders are inevitably yesterday's outsiders.
Mayank Shekhar attempts to make sense of mass culture. He tweets @mayankw14 Send your feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org
The views expressed in this column are the individual's and don't represent those of the paper
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